Could an Israeli-Saudi Peace be Next? Yes, With One Caveat | Opinion

Yesterday's announcement by Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister that there will be no normalization with Israel unless there is peace with the Palestinians, shows how much work is yet to be done, and how much Israel will have to reform if it really wants to become a fully accepted part of the region.

This is not to detract from last week's agreement between the UAE and Israel, which was attacked by the extremists who want the Middle East to be at the mercy of divisive Islamism and Iranian projection of power, rather than on a path to unity and peace.

I see the UAE's move as a milestone toward a more harmonious region. As such, the agreement should be celebrated.

Still, real normalization of Israel in the region, and across the Arab and Muslim worlds, can only happen if and when there is a deal struck between the Jewish State and the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Saudi remains committed to a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, based on 1967 borders. The desire to welcome Israel into the region is real. But the question now is just how much change and reform Netanyahu is willing to implement make to secure this acceptance.

The benefits of reform and reconciliation to Israelis and Palestinians cannot be overstated. But opening the path to friendship with Riyadh is a benefit in its own right. Riyadh, the cultural capital of the Kingdom amongst the world's 2 billion Muslims is second to none. And when much anti-Israeli rhetoric is based on the sanctity of the Al Aqsa Mosque and on the perceived conflict between Jews and Muslims there, it is those 2 billion hearts and minds that must be part of a resolution to this conflict.

There will certainly be other milestones on the possible route to that ultimate achievement—there is already speculation that Bahrain, Morocco and others could follow in the UAE's footsteps. But there is no doubt about the ultimate prize for those who desire normalization between Israel and its neighbors: full relations with Saudi Arabia.

The next few years would be the ideal time for a pact, since we are certainly entering a new stage in Arab-Israeli relations. The Palestine issue is important issue to many, including the Saudi Arabian leadership, but Israel is now seen as part of the solution rather than just part of the problem.

And regional and global interests, which necessitate more alliances against threats like Islamism and Iranian expansionism, point towards closer ties with Israel. In a rough neighborhood, you need all the friends you can get.

As a Saudi, I am excited about how closer ties with Israel could help the region stay the course of moderation and stability. But it is clear that my government will not abandon Palestinian rights in the process.

Palestine continues, as ever, to be an important issue to the country's leadership and Saudi Arabia has a long track record of supporting the cause, despite many Palestinians' hostility to the Kingdom.

Both Palestinian and Israeli leaders should make engaging Saudi Arabia a priority if they want a lasting settlement. Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Muslim world has, unlike other regional powers, led a constructive line on Israel for some time.

The Muslim World League, an independent organization headquartered in Jeddah and with a Secretary General who is a member of the Royal Court, has been pivotal in condemning antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the Muslim World. However angry and anguished many may feel about the the state of Palestinian rights, it is clear that antisemitism also has a role in sustaining hostility to Israel.

And Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has been clear that Israelis have the right to their own land and, that both Israelis and Palestinians should be working towards peace. This is also reflected culturally: Last Ramadan a Saudi soap opera featured a character urging ties with Israel, and Saudi influencers have sung the praises (quite literally) of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Saudi leadership, with its commitment to moderate Islam, is acutely aware of the Jewish heritage of the Holy Land, which is detailed in the Quran itself. Denying this heritage is quite a separate question from issues of national self-determination. Abrahamic unity, amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims is an inherent part of that moderate Islam, and no national conflict should be allowed to displace that.

Israel needs to change. But so, frankly, does the current approach of the Palestinian leadership, whose credibility has been steadily eroding both at home and abroad. When these changes come, Saudi Arabia will be waiting to step up as an ardent supporter of peace—and as friend to Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Mohammed Alsherebi is an investor and advisor to global leaders on strategy and investment in the Middle East. He tweets at @MASNotes.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​