The world from here: Will the Saudis now derail Palestinian Israeli peace talks?

The Saudis realize how important solving the Palestinian problem is for the Obama administration.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
Michael Doran, 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 allies.”
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 unreliable.”
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 Washington.
The Saudis annual contribution of tens of millions of dollars to the PA budget should ensure that PA President Mahmoud Abbas honors the request.
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 2007.
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 status.”
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 administration.
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.