As Riyadh opens airspace to Israeli civilian flights, Joe Biden arrives in Jeddah
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) US President Joe Biden flew from Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia on Friday, as the second leg of his Middle East tour began.
Biden’s visit to the region has two main purposes: to 1) promote peaceful relations between Israel and the Arab states and 2) prod the Gulf countries, as well as Iraq, to increase oil production to help the US and its allies confront Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Promoting Arab-Israeli Peace
Shortly before Biden arrived in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia announced that it would allow all civilian airliners to overfly its territory. Above all, that meant that eastbound Israeli airplanes could fly over Saudi Arabia on a regular basis, saving time and fuel, shortening the route they had been taking over Kuwait, Iraq, and Jordan.
The Saudi announcement marked one more step in the Abraham Accords, the Arab-Israeli diplomacy normalizing ties between the two parties, which was begun in the last year of the Trump administration.
The Accords have marked the most significant gains in advancing peace in the Middle East since the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Their novelty lies in bypassing the Palestinians, who repeatedly posed intractable obstacles to any agreement, and substituting, instead, US inputs to entice the Arab parties into the agreements.
After meeting Israel’s leadership on Thursday, Biden met on Friday in Bethlehem with the President of the Palestinian Authority, the 86-year old Mahmoud Abbas, before leaving for Jeddah.
The Palestinian Authority has not held elections in the past 16 years, and Abbas is generally seen as an unpopular figure. Recent polling reveals that nearly 80% of Palestinians want him to resign, the Associated Press has reported.
Although Biden promised Abbas over $300 million in aid, including support for refugees and health care, Palestinians were resentful that he did not undertake a new diplomatic initiative aimed at promoting talks between them and Israel.
Yet as Biden noted, “The ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations,” but the US, he pledged, “will not give up on bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis, both sides, closer together.”
Palestinians’ Wasted Opportunities
Those who are not familiar with the history of Arab-Israeli peacemaking might be surprised to learn that the primary focus of US efforts in the Middle East for twelve years—from the four years of the George H. W. Bush administration, which took office in January 1989, through the administration of Bill Clinton for another eight years, until January 2001—was Arab-Israeli peace-making, including between Israel and the Palestinians.
But that effort achieved little. It transformed an informal peace between Jordan and Israel into a formal one. But virtually nothing else was accomplished. At the same time, other pressing problems in the region were ignored—until the 9/11 attacks radically changed the focus of US efforts in the Middle East.
Indeed, one might take this story back to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan all mobilized to attack Israel, but Israel responded preemptively, capturing the Sinai, West Bank and Golan Heights in six days.
Subsequently, Israel offered to return almost all that territory in exchange for peace. But the Arabs would not have it. Led by the fiery Egyptian president, Gamal Abdul Nasser, they held a summit in Khartoum, in which they pronounced the three “noes”—no peace, no negotiations, no recognition.
As Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban remarked, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Increasing Gulf Oil Production
On Friday, Biden met with the Saudi King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, and then with his son, the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Subsequently, they issued “The Jeddah Communique: A Joint Statement Between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
The document, essentially, provides a framework for the resetting of US-Saudi relations.
Of particular note is a paragraph concerning Iraq, whose leader will be among those attending the GCC + 3 summit on Saturday.
“President Biden welcomed the leading role played by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in strengthening relations with [the] Republic of Iraq, and the historic agreements to be signed on the margins of the Jeddah Security and Development Summit on July 16, 2022,” the Communique states, “to link the electricity networks of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to the Iraqi grid, in order to provide Iraq and its people with new and diversified electricity sources.”
One aim of that is to decrease Iraq’s energy dependence on Iran.
More predictably, the document reaffirmed the historic “strategic partnership” between Washington and Riyadh and “the United States’ continued commitment to supporting Saudi Arabia’s security and territorial defense.”
It also “underscored the importance of strategic economic and investment cooperation, particularly in light of the current crisis in Ukraine and its consequences,” while the US and Saudi Arabia “reaffirmed their commitment to a stable global energy market.”