Saudi Arabia is normalising relations with Israel

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Saudi Arabia is normalising relations with Israel

A drama series telecast on the Saudi-controlled MBC during the holy month of Ramadan is being seen as a clear signal from Saudi Arabia about its growing ties with Israel.

The TV series, 'Umm Haroun' (mother of Aaron), begins with a long monologue in Hebrew, in which a Jewish character says "we are the Gulf Jews who were born in the Gulf lands."

Although Saudi-Israeli, behind-the-scene parleys, have been an open secret for long, since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, popularly known as MbS, took over as the de facto ruler the warming of ties between two bitter enemies of Iran has become quite obvious.

The first clear sign of rapprochement came when in 2018 in an interview to the US magazine The Atlantic, MbS said that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land, a complete U-turn from the stated Saudi policy that normalisation of relations hinges on an Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war - territory Palestinians seek for a future state.

Although the drama series has sparked sharp criticism among the Arabs, especially Palestinians, who still see Israel as the real enemy of Arabs and Muslims, political analysts say both the states are following the badge the enemy of my enemy is my friend as both see Iran as a real threat to them.

Writing in Haaretz, commentator Zvi Bar'el says Saudi Arabia has emerged as Israel's 'dream state'. He says Israel has no better ally than Saudi Arabia. It fights Hezbollah and overthrew the Lebanese prime minister who had lived in peace with that organization for a year. There is no other country in the world, including the United States, that acts with such resolve against Iran. Saudi Arabia even went to war in Yemen, not for the Yemenis, who as far as Riyadh is concerned could die of starvation, but to block Iran’s influence.

Bar'el further says it seems as if Saudi Arabia would be happy to have Israel join the “Sunni axis". He says to be part of this new alliance, Israel may have to make some concession and does not see any harm in reviving the Saudi peace initiative, which calls for Arab normalisation with Israel in return for withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories.

However, many Middle East experts don't expect Saudis to push the Israelis on the Palestinian issue as their priorities have changed.

This view is in consonance with the theme of drama Exit 7, also telecast during Ramadan, which shows that Saudis are abandoning the Palestinian cause as one character played by Saudi actor Rashid Al Shamrani says he would happily do business with Israelis and argues that Palestinians are the real enemy for “insulting” Saudi Arabia “day and night.”

However, the biggest indication came when Saudi newspaper Arab News published a long interview of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, a leading religious Muslim nongovernmental organization based in Makkah.

Quoting the Quran and hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad), Sheikh Al-Issa said: "It is permissible to engage in normal business and friendly relations with members of other faiths, including Jews, as was the case in the Prophet Muhammad’s time."

Further endorsing relations with Jews, he said: “With our Jewish brothers, we concluded agreements and mutual cooperation, and we love them and respect them greatly, far from the problems of politics, as our principle is not to interfere in politics."

Speaking on the alliance with the Jewish state, Sheikh Al-Issa quoted the famous Madinah Charter. Calling it as Prophet Muhammad’s signature achievement, he told the paper that the Madinah Charter was an example of Islam’s position on religious existence put into practice.

“The Prophet has signed the most important Islamic constitutional document, which is the Madinah Charter, which preserved religious and civil rights, as well as provided for Jews and others to live within Madinah in dignity as part of the ummah (community),” he said.

Sheikh Al-Issa said: “The neighbour of the prophet was a Jew, whom he visited and accepted his hospitality, and considered all the food of the Jews permissible for Muslims, permitted marriage to them, and built a family from a Jewish mother, and the Jewish community lived with Muslims in Madinah in peace."

Highlighting the sharp shift in the Saudi policy towards Israel, Sheikh Al-Issa compared the Muslim Brotherhood to Al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS) in a Ramadan programme on MBC. He said the Brotherhood ideology was the gateway drug leading students to join Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Hamas and other terrorist organizations, who hunt down and punish Muslims deemed insufficiently subservient.

In his op-ed article in Arab News, Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, says: "A revolution is taking place in the Arab world that is quietly moving the Middle East’s tectonic plates in ways no one ever thought possible. The old broadside attacks against Israelis by almost all Arab countries have quietly dissipated and the evidence is as clear as the nightly television entertainment shows that people are watching."

Lauder, who accompanied Sheikh Al-Issa on his groundbreaking visit to Auschwitz, says, it’s amazing that a TV show (Um Haroun) has led to a constructive dialogue and bridge-building.

Lauder concluded his article by saying that the most encouraging aspect of the silent revolution taking place in the Middle East is that it's coming out of the highest political levels as well, with the Saudi monarchy that holds tremendous sway across the Muslim world as the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam.

Commentator Seraj Assi writing in Haaretz says King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, must be turning in his grave on seeing this public flirtation between Israel and Saudi Arabia that has sent waves of jubilation across the Jewish state.

Assi says: "In what resembles a classic display of an unholy alliance, the two countries look as if they had buried their hatchet and old rivalries under the Iranian rug. What once seemed an eternal enmity of biblical dimensions is now celebrated as the beginning of a wonderful partnership."

Saudi Arabia for long portrayed it as the custodian of Islam and champion of Arab unity and the Palestinian cause. However, the common enemy Iran has forced it to abandon this narrative and join hands with Israel.

Asif Ullah Khan

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