Ever since the UAE and Bahrain signed normalization agreements with Israel in Washington in 2020, the U.S. and Israel have worked to persuade more countries to normalize relations with Israel. The main focus of both countries is Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration has been clear in its aspiration to build on the normalization deals made during the Trump administration. Last summer President Joe Biden visited Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia. Although he had promised during his presidential campaign to make a pariah out of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, President Biden defended his meeting with the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia by saying it was part of the U.S. effort to persuade Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel. Since then, senior White House officials Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk have been conducting shuttle diplomacy between Saudi and Israel. In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia wants U.S. security guarantees and assistance in building a civilian nuclear program in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel.
This transactional aspect of countries normalizing relations with Israel is far from new. In the 1980s Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said that Israel would leave Lebanon in exchange for normalized relations. In the 1990s Israel linked partial withdrawal from the Golan Heights to normalization with Syria. Recently, successful normalization deals have directly involved major concessions from the U.S. to the normalizing party. The UAE received the promise of a large arms deal, including F-35s from the U.S., and it was made a “major security partner.” Sudan, which has not formally normalized relations, was initially removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and was assured aid and debt relief. Morocco was able to secure U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and investment promises in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel.
The Biden administration is clearly committed to the normalization, but its willingness to make concessions similar to those made during the Trump administration to potential normalizing countries is not clear. Besides the endeavors made on the potential deal with Saudi Arabia, it has been reported that Biden is ramping up his efforts by appointing former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro as the “Abraham Accords” envoy. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly also pressed the Nigeran president Mohamed Bazoum to normalize relations with Israel during a visit to the country in March and is said to be consistently bringing up the issue with countries that do not have relations with Israel. Among other countries mentioned as potential normalizers are Mauritania, Somalia, and Indonesia.
The Biden administration clearly has no interest in facilitating any negotiations to end the Israeli occupation and instead is expending its resources on persuading countries to forego their support for Palestine and to strike a deal that offers U.S. compensation in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel. The focus on normalization sets aside discussions of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and also removes significant leverage from peace negotiations: Arab normalization of Israel is already being effectuated instead of being an endpoint as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative.