Can Saudi Arabia Forge an Israel-Palestine Peace?

Can Saudi Arabia Forge an Israel-Palestine Peace?

Riyadh is trying to keep the door open for normalization with Israel by promoting a balanced dialogue about Gaza.

While many in the Arab world react somberly to news from Gaza, Saudi Arabia celebrates winning Expo 2030. Since the Hamas-Israel war started two months ago, critics of the wealthy Gulf monarchy have pointed a critical finger at the continuation of its annually state-funded entertainment festival. How, they complain, could the Saudis celebrate while Palestine is under fire?  

Clearly, Riyadh is trying to keep the door open for normalization with Israel by promoting a balanced dialogue about Gaza.  

Seemingly, the kingdom is giving Washington and Jerusalem the time needed to resume the plans they had discussed before the October 7 Hamas terror attacks. While official statements from the Saudi Foreign Ministry have sometimes been harsh, the government has avoided controversial actions (such as boycotting the Jewish State) or oil threats (such as those imposed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War). Instead, Riyadh extended the deadline for bids from foreign companies to build its first nuclear power plant by two months.  

And why not? Just a few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia reportedly used an American-made interceptor to down a cruise missile launched by an Iranian proxy toward Israel.  

Further, Saudi news coverage has been far more restrained than Egyptian and Qatari media. When Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal appeared on the Saudi-affiliated Al-Arabiya channel, he was given a hard time on air. In a widely watched interview, he was asked, “Would you apologize for what was done to Israeli civilians on October 7?” When he hesitated, the anchor pressed, “You say that this is legitimate resistance in your view, but what the people watched on Western TV screens was transgressions by Hamas against civilians.” To justify the massive Palestinian civilian causalities caused by the war his terror group initiated, Meshaal declared that nations don’t get liberated easily: “Russians sacrificed 30 million people in World War II against the Germans, and the Vietnamese sacrificed 3.5 million to defeat the Americans.”  

Pro-regime Saudi intellectuals clearly blame Hamas. They fear a new wave of radicalization that could sweep the region, like what happened after the Second Intifada. Veteran journalist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed warned that “they are stealing your children for the tenth time.” He argued that many young Arabs these days are full of “blind empathy,” which could repeat what happened in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, where many Jihadists went in response to mobilization caused by inflammatory media coverage of regional conflicts. Indeed, Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for Hamas, is admired in many corners of the Arab world these days, where he is described as having a “lion’s heart,” and some demand he “attack and burn Tel Aviv.”

To counter such narratives, the Al-Arabiya channel broadcast videos of civilian Palestinians mourning their losses, blaming Hamas for the deaths. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera frequently airs clips of Palestinians glorifying their deaths as martyrdom. 

Arab response to the ongoing conflict demonstrates a gap between two different regional camps—a traditionalist camp that seeks to ignite the masses emotionally and a pragmatic camp that seeks to avoid escalatory narratives. The latter should be the one with which Washington engages. 

For decades, U.S. policy counted on Egypt and Jordan as the main interlocutors in any Palestinian-Israeli talks. But in recent years, both capitals have lost their places at the helm of Arab-Israel relations. This has opened the door for actors like Turkey and Iran to make mischief.  

While Israel is actively dismantling Hamas, Washington should directly engage Saudi Arabia. This would create a new calculus in the Palestinian arena. Riyadh has relatively better relations with Cairo and Amman than Ankara and Tehran. Indeed, the Saudis would stand to benefit from Egyptian and Jordanian ground expertise in Gaza and the West Bank. Meanwhile, Saudi financial power would attract Palestinian loyalists who used to bypass poor Egypt and Jordan to get money from Qatar and Turkey—an important point for Palestinians, demonstrated by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s recent trip to Doha seeking financial support to achieve postwar aims.  

Thus, direct Saudi Arabian involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be the shortest route to a stable peace in the Middle East. First, Saudi Arabia has strong political and financial clout in the region due to its massive oil wealth and religious prestige as the birthplace of Islam. Second, the current leadership in Riyadh is heavily invested in countering extremism spread by the Iranian axis, which it sees as having hijacked the Palestinian question. Third, the Saudi regime is likely to help any future Israeli government sell a deal with the Palestinians to its own antagonized public since normalizing relations with the rich Gulf monarchy would help the economically ill Jewish state recover from the current costly war.  

Clearly, a new Washington-Jerusalem-Riyadh entente is the best path to stable peace. Will U.S., Israeli, and Saudi leaders seize the opportunity?   

Haisam Hassanein is an Adjunct Fellow at FDD, where he analyzes Israel’s relations with Arab states and Muslim countries.