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US, Saudi Arabia launch fresh initiatives to end war in Gaza

TN Ashok

Washington, Jan 18 : The US and Saudi Arabia are putting together a peace package in Gaza envisioning an early end to the Israel-Hamas conflict, stabilizing the situation in the Middle East, and establishing a framework for some form of Palestinian self-governance.

Hectic parleys have been taking place between top officials and US legislators for the last more than a fortnight towards rekindling such an arrangement with Saudi Arabia and get Israel on board to bring peace to the region devastated by a war resulting in the death of over 20,000 Palestinian civilians and over 2,000 Israeli soldiers.

Eleven days ago, Sen. Lindsay Graham, Republican, arrived for a private meeting in a lavish tent with ruby red rugs and low burgundy cushions in the western Saudi Arabian oasis town of Al Ula, home to ancient Nabatean ruins.

The tent was guarded by layers of Saudi security that protect the nearby winter camp of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was a participant in a series of high-stakes meetings with the crown prince in recent weeks involving American lawmakers and diplomats hoping to rekindle a potential treaty between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US.

Their ambitious goal is to hammer out a framework for concluding the Israel-Hamas war, stabilizing the Middle East and paving the way for some form of Palestinian self-governance in Gaza Strip, media reports said.

The key question, however, is — will the Israeli government — and the Israeli public — accept a path to the Palestinian state in exchange for an American-backed peace treaty with Saudi Arabia?

Despite months of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hard-line members of his right-wing coalition publicly dismissing the idea of a Palestinian state after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack, a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia that ends the Israel-Hamas war is seen as a potential political win for Netanyahu, NBC said quoting people familiar with the talks.

“Any deal for normalization with Saudi Arabia right now would be a major win politically speaking for Netanyahu and an exit strategy,” said Nadav Eyal, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Yediyot Ahronot.

The US-Saudi plan that will involve Israeli officials provides a framework for rebuilding Gaza with substantial support from neighboring Arab countries; establishing moderate Palestinian leadership for Gaza; as well as ratifying a defense treaty between the US and Saudi Arabia that will provide an alliance against their mutual foe Iran, according to people familiar with the talks.

Saudi Arabia has insisted that any plan include a realistic pathway to a Palestinian state.

An adviser of Israel’s war Cabinet, who wished to remain anonymous said that “if the Saudis come with a deal that is good for Israel, of course we will vote for it”.

The adviser, and other Israeli officials, cautioned that the American push is premature because the Israeli public is not ready to discuss Palestinian state in the wake of the worst terrorist attack in Israeli history on October 7.

“The subject of a Palestinian state is too hot to touch in Israel right now,” said a second senior Israeli government official.

“People are talking about the war and the hostages, not rewarding the Palestinians. It’s also unclear when and how the war will even end.”

Clueless are negotiators for the US-Saudi deal to restore peace and literally establish a separate Palestinian state under the US President Joe Biden’s two nations theory, mainly because of the reluctance among Israeli politicians and the public who still nurture fresh memories of the October 7 massacre inside areas of Israel.

“The political obstacles in all three countries are significant. While Saudi Arabia is seen as a potential leader in the effort to create stability in Gaza, the Gulf state is reportedly hoping to secure civilian nuclear technology agreements that would need the approval of the US Congress,” according to a former U.S. national security official.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Khalid bin Bandar, said that the possibility of Saudi normalization with Israel remains alive if the conclusion of the Israel-Hamas war brings with it a realistic path to the creation of a Palestinian state.

“We were close to normalization, therefore close to a Palestinian state,” Bandar told the BBC, referring to the momentum that was building toward normalization of Saudi-Israel relations before the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack.

“One does not come without the other. The sequencing, how it is managed, that is what was being discussed.”

 

 

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