Meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 20, U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met to discuss Washington’s ongoing effort to broker an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish formal diplomatic relations. The discussions came as Israel continues to launch violent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territories and Netanyahu’s extremist right-wing government is gutting the nation’s judicial branch which millions of Israelis say is dismantling their democracy.
The effort to normalize relations between Israel and the Saudis follows the Trump administration’s 2020 Abraham Accord whucg established relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. Biden’s negotiating partner in the deal is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the president once pledged to make a pariah after he was found to have authorized the grisly 2018 murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. In exchange for signing a normalization agreement, Prince bin Salman, whose regime has committed gross and systemic human rights abuses, is demanding that the U.S. sign a mutual defense treaty and assist the kingdom in building a civilian nuclear program.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Raed Jarrar, advocacy director with Democracy for the Arab World Now, founded by Jamal Khashoggi. Here he takes a critical look at the Biden initiative to normalize relations between the Saudis and Israel, that he and other critics regard as an “endorsement of oppression.”
RAED JARRAR: Normalizing oppression — the far side — is not a good idea. Normalizing the United States government with leaders like Mohammed bin Salman is not a good idea. It is not an ethical idea. And honestly, it’s not in our interest as a country to continue to support these kind of governments around the region.
Continuing to support the Netanyahu government in Israel is not just a bad idea, it actually crosses the line to contradict our own laws in the United States, we’re actually not supposed to be giving our money and weapons to governments that are committing serious violations of human rights or committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, like what the Israeli government commits every day.
So that’s why we don’t think that the normalization efforts between Mohammed Salman and Netanyahu is something that the United States just prioritized or bankrolled.
Why? Why would we be spending our own money and political capital in making sure that these dictators and apartheid regime are hanging out together, you know, using our tax dollars? It’s zero in our interest to do this? Actually, our interest is the other way around. Our interest is to stop funding them all together.
SCOTT HARRIS: As we’ve read, Raed, the U.S. is offering a security pact with the Saudi monarchy, as well as help to develop the Saudis’ civilian nuclear program. What, if anything, are the Saudis willing to concede in terms of human rights or other issues as part of this pact?
And a question beyond that is, what’s being sacrificed in terms of Palestinian human rights and concern for that around the world with this pact?
RAED JARRAR: I think these are very good questions to ask the Biden administration. We have been asking them the same questions, honestly. The human rights and foreign policy communities in Washington, D.C. have asked this administration this same question over and over. And the question is, “Why are you making all of these concessions?” “Why did President Biden fly all the way to the Middle East and fist-bump Hamad bin Salman?” “What did we get in return?”
Why did he meet with Mohammed bin Salman at the time that most of the human rights organizations and vocal voices here in D.C. and internationally were asking him to follow through on his promise to make Mohammed bin Salman a pariah instead of making him an ally. We don’t know. And the administration sometimes tells us that we are naive and we are utopian, and we don’t know how the real world works.
I mean, honestly, I think pragmatist foreign policy that is devoid of ethical and moral parameters is not okay, even if it was yielding results. But with this administration, it’s neither. It’s the worst of both worlds. It’s an immoral, unethical foreign policy. It’s not guided by ethics. It’s not guided by human rights. It’s not guided by religion. But it’s also not yielding results.
SCOTT HARRIS: What’s the level of opposition to this effort to normalize relations between the Saudis and Israel in Congress? And who are the allies that you have at dawn among human rights groups who are also opposed to this this effort for normalization?
RAED JARRAR: There is a broad coalition of groups who is opposing this kind of normalization. And we come from a place where we don’t think supporting dictators and apartheid regime is a good idea. We come from a place where we think this normalization is happening at the expense of the Palestinian people, of Palestinian rights, of the future of Palestine.
So there is a broad coalition of nonprofit organizations working on this, but also many members of Congress, who are concerned about this. They are not okay with continuing the blank check policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. So I think that will be definitely pushback from Congress to any attempt by this administration to sign a security pact or give more security guarantees and concessions to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
For more information, visit Democracy for the Arab World Now at dawnmena.org.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Raed Jarrar (15:50) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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