A group of 20 US senators have sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to be cautious about the possible concessions that the US might offer to Saudi Arabia in exchange for normalizing its relations with Israel. The letter, which was made public on Wednesday, said that the senators support the goal of deepening the ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, but they have serious reservations about some of the reported demands from Riyadh, such as a binding defense treaty and a civilian nuclear program.
The letter was led by Democratic senators Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen, who are both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They were joined by 18 other senators, including Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
The senators said that they have an “open mind about any agreement that would potentially deepen the political, cultural and economic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel“, but they also stressed that “a high degree of proof would be required to show that a binding defense treaty with Saudi Arabia – an authoritarian regime which regularly undermines US interests in the region, has a deeply concerning human rights record, and has pursued an aggressive and reckless foreign policy agenda – aligns with US interests”.
They also expressed concerns about the possibility of the US helping Saudi Arabia with its civilian nuclear program, which Riyadh has been pursuing for years. The senators said that such assistance should be conditioned on Saudi Arabia accepting “the highest international standards of transparency and non-proliferation”, including signing the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows for more intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The senators also called on Biden to ensure that any normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel would include “meaningful, clearly defined and enforceable” steps by Israel to advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They said that Israel should commit to not annexing any part of the occupied West Bank, halting settlement construction and expansion, and dismantling illegal outposts.
A Historic Deal?
The letter comes amid reports that the Biden administration is working to broker a historic deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, following the footsteps of former President Donald Trump, who facilitated similar agreements between Israel and four Arab countries: The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
According to US media reports, Washington is considering offering Riyadh two defense pacts: one with the US and one with Israel. The first pact would reportedly provide Saudi Arabia with security guarantees against external threats, especially from Iran, while the second pact would establish a framework for military cooperation and intelligence sharing between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Saudi Arabia has not officially confirmed or denied its interest in normalizing ties with Israel, but it has hinted at its willingness to do so under certain conditions. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, has said that he supports a two-state solution and that he believes that normalization with Israel would bring “tremendous benefits” to the region.
However, Saudi Arabia also faces domestic and regional challenges in pursuing such a move. Many Saudis and other Muslims view Israel as an enemy and a violator of Palestinian rights and Islamic holy sites. Saudi Arabia also hosts the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has repeatedly condemned Israel’s actions and policies towards the Palestinians.
Israel, on the other hand, has welcomed the prospect of establishing relations with Saudi Arabia, which it sees as a regional ally and a potential market. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said that he hopes to visit Riyadh soon and that he believes that normalization with Saudi Arabia is “only a matter of time”.