Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MBS) recent PR trip to the United States reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s strategic goals in the Middle East. The Wahhabi regime and its allies have increased their cooperation with Israel, based on the common goal of curtailing Iranian influence. This harmonization between Arab governments and Israel is also amplifying the isolation of the Palestinians, who continue to suffer under Israeli occupation and apartheid.
Much of the U.S. media has celebrated MBS as a superstar. Israeli media, which generally labels Saudi Arabia as “moderate,” has depicted him positively as well. MBS’ anti-Iranian views have been particularly hailed in both the United States and Israel.
MBS’ itinerary in the United States included discreet meetings with Zionist groups, such as AIPAC which has advocated violence against Palestinians, Iran, and Lebanon, and promoted illegal Israeli settlements and measures to oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Indeed, in an interview with TIME, published on April 5, MBS made his support for the aims of AIPAC and Israel clear, by recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and envisioning increased collaboration between Saudi and Israel in the future:
[I]t seems that we have a common enemy, and … a lot of potential areas to have economic cooperation. And we cannot have a relation with Israel before solving the peace issue, the Palestinians, because both of them … have the right to live and coexist.
Framing Israelis and Palestinians as equal parties to the dispute, MBS ignored the asymmetric, colonial power relations that dominate the conflict. That he did this is unsurprising. For Saudi Arabia, Palestinians are an inconvenient obstacle to full diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
MBS’ remarks are only the latest example of efforts to increase cooperation between Saudi Arabia, its Sunni Arab allies, and Israel, in the hopes of weakening, isolating, and potentially brining regime change to Iran. In an interview with Saudi newspaper إيلاف (“Elaph”) in November 2017, Gadi Eizenkot, chief of the IDF’s general staff, outlined Israel and Saudi Arabia’s full agreement on regional politics, and urged cooperation in opposing Iran. Eizenkot is known for having developed the Dahiya Doctrine, an Israeli strategy of merciless warfare against civilians that was used in Lebanon and Gaza.
The region’s Sunni Arab governments generally care little about the Palestinians, and barely raised any opposition to recent U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. More recently, Saudi Arabia and Egypt asked Palestinians to end the ongoing Great March of Return in Gaza, while at the same time failing to condemn Israel’s excessive use of violence against peaceful protester.
Despite this lack of support, the region’s Arab governments still have the audacity to speak on behalf of Palestinians. For example, Israeli security officials recently met with representatives of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in Washington, upon Jared Kushner’s invitation, to reportedly discuss humanitarian issues in Gaza. No Palestinian representatives were present.
The idea of pan-Arab solidarity has long perished. In its wake, Palestinians have been left behind as powerful Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, cooperate with Israel. Warmongering against Iran and consolidating geo-political hegemony, rather than protecting and advocating for the rights of Palestinians living under occupation and repression, are the priority for Saudi Arabia and its allies.