Not long ago, the world was focused on a U.S.-Saudi-Israeli “big Middle East deal.” However, the current situation of death and destruction is far from the excitement around potential Saudi-Israeli normalization prior to the war. Some may be surprised by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks and the war’s outbreak, while others had anticipated such violence. The unresolved Palestinian issue was largely ignored due to the urgent desire of the U.S. and Israel to see a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia. This deal would cement President Biden’s legacy and provide a diplomatic talking point for the 2024 election campaign. For Netanyahu, having Saudi Arabia recognize Israel would be a strategic victory.
As the war continued, both Israel and the United States were losing credibility. Saudi Arabia is leading a diplomatic effort to question the legality of Israeli military aggression and the U.S. diplomatic cover it is utilizing. The Saudis believe any discussion about the “day after” could be seen as complicit by giving the Israeli campaign legitimacy. They want to avoid being used for Israeli political ends and being “spun” by Netanyahu.
Where Riyadh has leverage is in financing. Israel will never match the financial capacity of Saudi Arabia and other GCC states. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have incentives to contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza if done right. However, Saudi Arabia is undergoing its own rebuilding process and has set itself a task of restructuring the state and building mega projects. The Saudis have the money, but it is for investing in Saudi Arabia’s future. Yet, they are willing to invest in a future Palestinian state and contribute significantly to the rebuilding of its infrastructure.