It’s no secret that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is fuming over Washington’s
Middle East policies. The recent public rupture between Riyadh and Washington
may be the worst crisis in relations with America’s top Arab ally since the
close relationship was established more than 80 years ago.
a Brookings Institute Middle East scholar and former White House National
Security Council official, told the London Telegraph on October 22 that, “I’ve
never seen such a willingness on the part of the Saudis to publicly express
their frustrations... it looks to the Saudis as if the US is throwing Sunni
allies under the bus by trying to cut a deal with Iran and its
Abdullah has reportedly shared his frustration at a lunch he
hosted in Jeddah recently with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Crown Prince Mohammed
bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates.
Abdullah reportedly told his
fellow Sunni Arab guests that he is “convinced the US is
What seems surprising in the Saudis acting out is that they
are not only “talking the talk,” they are also “walking the walk,” stomping over
the UN and perhaps even Middle East peace talks. The Saudi King’s unexpected
directive earlier this month to cancel his foreign minister’s address to the UN
General Assembly and the sudden Saudi rejection of a long sought non-permanent
seat on the United Nations Security Council, having cited the Council’s
ineffective handling of the Syrian and Palestinian issues as two examples.
However, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, chief of Saudi Intelligence, reportedly
told Western diplomats that both moves were meant “as blunt messages to the US,
not the UN,” according to Reuters.
Saudi exasperation may also derail
Palestinian and Israeli peace talks.
According to a source close the
Palestinian leadership, the Saudis told visiting Palestinian Authority senior
officials during the Haj pilgrimage that the Saudis expect the Palestinians to
distance themselves from the US in support of the Saudi rift with
The Saudis annual contribution of tens of millions of dollars
to the PA budget should ensure that PA President Mahmoud Abbas honors the
The source close to the PA leadership also indicated that it
would be reasonable to expect hard line Saudi statements and pressure against
any Palestinian concessions or compromises.
However, Saudi claims against
Washington on the Palestinian issue seem out of place. Why would the Saudis want
to stomp on Abbas’ long shot and any final attempt to negotiate statehood and a
peace agreement with Israel, particularly if the Palestinian conflict is as
central to Middle East peace as senior Saudi officials themselves have
emphasized repeatedly to the US and Western diplomats? Moreover, the Obama
administration has apparently prevailed in having Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s Likud led coalition release incarcerated Palestinian terrorists in
four “installments,” apparently, in an attempt to guarantee Palestinian
agreement to a minimum ninemonth negotiating window.
Over the past 13
years the Saudis themselves had proposed major peace plans with offers to
“normalize” relations with Israel. Abdullah, as Crown Prince, first proposed a
peace plan in 2002 at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League to end the
Arab-Israeli conflict, which the Kingdom re-endorsed at the Riyadh Summit in
What seems clear, despite more recent public posturing on behalf of
the Palestinians, Saudi national interests and those of its fellow Gulf state
monarchies have relegated the Palestinian issue to regional “footnote
Saudi strategic worries over the Obama administration’s
political will to stop the Iranian regime’s race for nuclear and regional
supremacy and its long list of subversive proxies like Hezbollah and other
Shi’ite and Sunni Jihadi groups that threaten Saudi domestic stability and
regional control keep Abdullah awake at night.
But the Saudis also
realize how important solving the Palestinian problem is for the Obama
And with the Saudi leadership realizing that it has no
current replacement for its critical Middle East partnership with Washington,
Abdullah may be more than ready to torpedo the Middle East peace process and
sacrifice the Palestinians in a desperate effort to get the Obama administration
to save the Middle East.
The writer is a foreign Policy Fellow of the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as the Secretary General of the
World Jewish Congress from 2011 until 2013.