Or maybe they should stop sucking up to Iran. That’s the real subtext of the surprising rhetoric coming from Mohammed bin Salman, the young crown prince of Saudi Arabia who’s rewriting the Middle East script after seizing power in a family feud last year. Barak Ravid reports for Axios that MBS, as he’s colloquially known, told representatives of Jewish groups last month that while Saudi Arabia still wants a just and lasting settlement for the Palestinians, they could have gotten that themselves.
Now, MBS says, it’s time to make a deal or “shut up and stop complaining”:
According to my sources, the Saudi Crown Prince told the Jewish leaders:
“In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given. It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”
MBS also made two other points on the Palestinian issue during the meeting:
- He made clear the Palestinian issue was not a top priority for the Saudi government or Saudi public opinion. MBS said Saudi Arabia “has much more urgent and important issues to deal with” like confronting Iran’s influence in the region.
- Regardless of all his criticism of the Palestinian leadership, MBS also made clear that in order for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to normalize relations with Israel there will have to be significant progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Under MBS’ leadership since taking effective power in June 2017, Saudi Arabia has aligned itself far more with the West. Decrees from the royal palace are now allowing women to drive and to dress in something other than black abayas and niqabs while in public. MBS has opened cinemas in Saudi Arabia for the first time in decades. He’s either cleaning up corruption or purging dissidents and hardliners, but either way MBS is making sure that he directs public policy for Saudi Arabia for the next several decades, and directs it to come closer to the West.
The main intention of all this appears to be an effort to isolate Iran, which has become an existential threat to Sunni power in the region. Our invasion and then abandonment of Iraq didn’t help in that effort, which is why even the previous crown prince took a distinctly cool approach to Barack Obama at the end of his presidency. MBS knows that he’ll have to modernize in order to make Western nations comfortable with any partnership for the region, and that the glut on oil markets means that the Saudis can’t simply use energy as leverage any more.
Unfortunately for the Palestinians, they’ve been playing footsie with Tehran more than Riyadh, and now they’re going to pay for it. Choosing sides has consequences, and with the stakes as high as they are now, the Saudis see the Palestinians as dispensable. They’d rather ally openly with Israel to keep Iran at bay, and the best way to do that is for the Palestinians to take a deal and get on with their lives.
Unfortunately again for the Palestinians, they still can’t decide what they want, or even how to discuss it:
A powerful but rarely convened assembly that calls itself the Palestinian “supreme authority” meets for the first time in 22 years on Monday, but boycotts and rifts suggest it will struggle to achieve its stated goal of unity against Israel and the United States.
President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to use the four-day Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting to renew his legitimacy and to install loyalists in powerful positions to begin shaping his legacy.
Abbas has billed the meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the de facto parliament of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, as a chance to establish a united front against Israel and the United States, after President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The hardline Islamists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both of which are aligned with Iran, have boycotted the event, ostensibly because its West Bank location puts them at risk of arrest by Israel. But Reuters notes that three factions of the PLO are also boycotting, in part because they believe Abbas hasn’t been open enough to working with IJ or Hamas. The event is seen as an anachronism by other Palestinians, a desperate attempt by Abbas to emphasize his legitimacy as the Palestinian Authority leader while being largely ignored by all sides.
The Saudis have had enough. Perhaps Abbas should take MBS’ advice and cut a deal while he still can.