US wants an Israeli-Saudi ‘normalisation’ deal. Why now?

Washington, DC – The United States has made establishing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel a top policy goal – a push that experts say would leave Palestinians behind and could come at a high price for Washington in the Middle East.

The complexity of Washington’s so-called normalisation drive also has raised questions around why US President Joe Biden’s administration has made it a priority right now.

“Biden belongs to a school of thought that views the Arab-Israeli conflict as one in which Palestinians are not necessarily the central force,” said Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute think-tank.

“He believes that the underlying root cause of this conflict is the inability of Arab states to accept Israel. And so, if that’s how you view the conflict, it would make sense that you would prioritise normalisation,” Elgindy told Al Jazeera.

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman laid out a complex plan that he said Biden is pursuing to secure an Israeli-Saudi deal. It involves giving Saudi Arabia NATO-like security guarantees and helping the Gulf kingdom kick-start a civilian nuclear programme.

The framework would not directly involve the Palestinians, Friedman reported, but it would include some concessions to them, such as an Israeli settlement freeze and a pledge from Israel to never annex the occupied West Bank.

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