A group of 20 Democratic senators has cautioned US President Joe Biden against rushing into a security pact with Saudi Arabia in order to encourage Riyadh to recognize Israel. These lawmakers believe that before entering such an agreement, Biden should also urge Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
Currently, the White House is negotiating a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which would establish diplomatic ties between the Sunni kingdom and the Jewish state. In exchange for this, the US would offer several concessions that are still being worked out. Some of these concessions being considered include a formal security pact between the US and Saudi Arabia, the sale of advanced arms to Riyadh, and assistance in establishing a Saudi civilian nuclear program.
However, the group of senators argues in a letter that there needs to be a high degree of proof to show that a binding defense treaty with Saudi Arabia aligns with US interests. They describe Saudi Arabia as an authoritarian regime that regularly undermines US interests in the region and has a concerning human rights record.
The letter has been signed by senators such as Chris Van Hollen, Chris Murphy, and Dick Durbin, who hold positions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Together, these 20 signatories make up two-fifths of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, making their support crucial for Biden’s ability to pass an agreement before the 2024 election season begins.
The senators also emphasized the importance of careful deliberation before providing more advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia. They fear that such a move could escalate the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen or contribute to a regional arms race. Furthermore, they believe that Saudi Arabia should be prevented from enriching uranium beyond civilian use and should commit to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Notably, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not ruled out the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons, stating in a recent interview that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would feel compelled to do the same.
The lawmakers also insist on the preservation of the option for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. They argue that any potential agreement should include Israel committing not to annex any or all of the West Bank, halting settlement construction and expansion, dismantling illegal outposts, and allowing for the natural growth of Palestinian towns, cities, and population centers.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known for his lack of support for Palestinian statehood, and Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank has increased since he returned to office last year. Reuters reported on Wednesday that Saudi officials will not press Netanyahu to offer major concessions to the Palestinians, leaving it up to the American side to negotiate on their behalf.
According to US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel, there is still a lot of work to be done on the deal, as the formal terms have not been agreed upon yet.