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Did Saudi Arabia Just Try To Give the West Bank to Israel?

The Trump declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the U.S. embassy there is as historically significant to Israel’s control of Jerusalem as the Balfour Declaration was to recognizing the rights of the Jewish people in Palestine.

But according to new revelations, the announcement could be part of a grander plan to help Israel wrest control of Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank, from the Palestinians for good, leaving the Arabs with their own state of Gaza only.

[1]Anyone looking to the State Department for guidance about any of this is bound to be disappointed. Foggy Bottom’s first public defense of the president’s blockbuster announcement would have been laughable if it weren’t so depressing. Indeed, Thursday’s State Department briefing, starring good soldier David Satterfield, could have been pilfered from the popular British comedy “Yes, Prime Minister.”

Satterfield, a highly regarded professional who has labored for 40 years in the barren vineyards of Middle East diplomacy, channeled the show’s star dissembler, Sir Humphrey Appleby. The acting assistant secretary did Sir Humphrey proud—he talked and talked and said nothing at all. [2]


Thankfully, far more instructive insights about the linkage between the announcement and Trump’s broader plans for the region were provided to TAC by a senior Palestinian official last week. This official was briefed on the details of the surprise meeting last month between Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO), and Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne.

The 82-year-old Abbas was summoned to Riyadh on November 6 by the 32-year-old MBS as part of the latter’s high-powered effort to engineer a joint Arab-U.S. offensive against Iran and its allies. He was not the first Arab leader to be invited. Days before his arrival, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was strong-armed by MBS into a sudden, though short-lived, resignation as part of the anti-Iran offensive.

MBS was in high dudgeon, according to the source, as he is playing a high-stakes gamble to cement both his leadership and his corollary offensive. On this score, MBS announced that the Arab Peace Initiative (API)—a Saudi-sponsored grand bargain promising Arab recognition of and peace with Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as its capital—is effectively dead.

It’s time for Plan B, declared the crown prince: a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, fattened by undetermined Egyptian transfers of land in the Sinai Peninsula. When the startled Palestinian leader asked about the place of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in this scheme, MBS replied, “We can continue to negotiate about this.”

“What about Jerusalem,  the settlements, [West Bank] Areas B and C?” Abbas pressed.

“These will be issues for negotiation, but between two states, and we will help you.”

According to the source, MBS offered the Palestinian leader $10 billion to sweeten the bitter pill he had just prescribed. “Abbas can’t say no [to the Saudis],” the source explained, “but he can’t say yes.”

The New York Times, reporting its own version of the meeting on December 3, [3] confirmed through Palestinian, Arab, and European sources privy to Abbas’s side of the conversation that MBS offered “vastly increased financial support for the Palestinians, and even dangled the possibility of a direct payment to Mr. Abbas, which they said he refused.” In that Times piece, sources said the offer Abbas could only refuse involved a Palestinian state with “noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory (Gaza).” The vast majority of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal by most of the world, would remain.

So who put the “Gaza-Plus” idea into MBS’s head? The genealogy is not hard to decipher, and it can be traced to one place only: Israel.

The creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza has long been viewed by key Israeli officials as a way of compelling Arab acquiescence to Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Various iterations of the idea have been bouncing around Israel’s right wing [4] for almost two decades.

All share a desire for an agreement by Israel’s Arab neighbors to cede territories in order to enable Israel to gobble up the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Former Netanyahu aide and NSC head Uzi Arad and his successor Giora Eiland—along with other Israelis who served with Netanyahu—have mooted this solution. For their patrons, Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Jerusalem is an absolute non-starter.

How then to communicate this Israeli idea to Riyadh at the very moment when Trump and Netanyahu were finalizing understandings [5] related to the Trump declaration on Jerusalem?

Only days before the MBS-Abbas meeting, U.S. envoys Jared Kushner (the president’s son-in-law and majordomo) and Jason Greenblatt (the Trump Organization’s former lawyer and current Mideast peace envoy) traveled to Riyadh for late-night deliberations with the crown prince.

Kushner, as we know, is a longstanding friend of Netanyahu’s—he even led his parents’ foundation [6] to funnel money to the West Bank settlements. He travels in circles where Jerusalem as “the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish People” and the “Gaza Plus” idea are common currency. Gaining Kushner’s support for the proposals as the basis for a new American strategy that places an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem in the deep freeze is like pushing on an open door.

Kushner, who is said to have bonded with his fellow thirty-something royal, is MBS’s best source for all things Israeli. Assuming that Kushner and MBS are on the same page regarding the Gaza scheme, and the MBS-Abbas meetings suggest they are, their agreement adds a new and troubling dimension to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Such a U.S.-Saudi understanding  is consistent with the Saudis’ effective abandonment of their own Arab Peace Initiative. The Saudi leader himself undermined a key element of that proposal when, in April 2016, Saudi Arabia agreed to join the Israel-Egypt strategic partnership established by their peace treaty without Israeli concessions on a Palestinian state, as the price for reestablishing Saudi control over the strategic Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir [7].

The source noted that MBS himself wrote a formal letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlining the unprecedented Saudi pledge to participate—along with Egypt, Israel, and the United States—in upholding the security terms of the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

That decision, and the letter, could be understood in Israel as a practical demonstration that Saudi Arabia was indeed prepared to engage with Israel without any quid pro quo requiring a Palestinian state, in Gaza, Jerusalem, or indeed anywhere.

A call by TAC to the Saudi embassy went unreturned on Monday. The White House denied the plan [3] to the New York Times, as did the Saudi government, and an Abbas spokesman called the reported Saudi offer “fake news” that “does not exist.”

Nevertheless, the details of the meeting were confirmed by several people to TAC and the Times, and they provide some badly needed context to the Jerusalem declaration. Confident of Saudi support for the Gaza option and its historic agreement to strategic collaboration with Washington, Egypt, and Israel independent of progress on Palestine, Trump can be forgiven for assuming a Saudi carte blanche in his effort to remake the Middle East, with recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem at its center.

Geoffrey Aronson is chairman and co-founder of The Mortons Group and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Did Saudi Arabia Just Try To Give the West Bank to Israel?"

#1 Comment By Interguru On December 11, 2017 @ 11:39 pm

MBS’s first two foreign gambits, the futile war in Yemen, and the kidnapping? of Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon have been failures. I have a feeling that we have another Mideastern Inspector Clouseau alongside the United States.

#2 Comment By ludovicus On December 12, 2017 @ 2:29 am

I wonder how much the Pentagon approves of these goings-on?

#3 Comment By RichterRox On December 12, 2017 @ 8:38 am

Sounds like a plan that actually might have a chance, I mean a mid east chance but a chance nevertheless.

The old solutions experation dates are well past and need to be pulled of the shelf , they are starting to stink.

#4 Comment By Michael On December 12, 2017 @ 10:06 am

Caroline Glick wrote a book about this a few years ago. The Israeli Solution, A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.

#5 Comment By Useful idiot who voted for trump On December 12, 2017 @ 11:06 am

To Mr Richter Fox
The only thing that smells bad is the apartheid state of Israel that the United States contrinues to underwrite. It makes me ashamed to be an American , or rather just another reason to be ashamed…. (Iraq , Yemen , Syria , Vietnam, Libya etc )
This is an abomination that will have reprecussions that will outlive me. It’s an excellent way to radicalize even more Muslims. Why would we do this for any other reason except that our politicians have been paid off.

#6 Comment By Anne (the other one) On December 12, 2017 @ 11:19 am

What of Bethlehem and 200,000 Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, descendants of some of the oldest Christian communities in the world?

Let’s see. Gaza is about the size of Detroit and is one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world.

OTOH, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. It has a healthy tourism with over 30 hotels and 300 handicraft workshops. All Israel needs to do is drive out the Palestinian Christians and nationalize every Church into a state run museum. Israel will receive revenue from admission fees, hotels and restaurants.

The Israeli settlers who have long tormented the Palestine Christians and vandalized Christian Churches can operate a Evangelical Christian Disneyland.

#7 Comment By PAX On December 12, 2017 @ 11:53 am

It seems Israel will get whatever it wants. They just have too many well-placed, powerful, and fanatical Quislings in the U.S. and other western democracies. Their dual capitals of Washington and Jerusalem hum with their power and acquisition plans.

#8 Comment By Jeeves On December 12, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

So much is left unsaid in this story. What about Hamas? Has anyone asked Sinwar what he thinks about Gaza as the locus of a Palestinian state? (He may be too busy ducking Israeli rockets at the moment).

What about Israel’s past reluctance to take on more Arab population (which would be the result of “gobbling up” the West Bank and East Jerusalem)? Not to mention welcoming a terrorist state on its southern border. How much of Sinai would Egypt be willing to cede to the proposed Palestinian state in Gaza?

In what sense could any of this be described as a “peace plan”?

#9 Comment By Clyde Schechter On December 12, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

Wow! A few days ago, in response to one of Daniels Larison’s posts, I wrote that the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was the first step in a plot by Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman to bring about a “deal” in which the Palestinians would get some economically unsustainable Bantustans and an illusion of self-governance and Israel takes the rest. I said there that Saudi Arabia would bribe or muscle the other Arab states into going along with it so that the Saudis can begin an open working alliance with Israel against Iran. In my post, I referred to this idea as “my conspiracy theory,” because I do struggle to contain my cynicism and keep focused on reality.

But I guess you really can never be too cynical after all.

#10 Comment By Joe F On December 12, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

I believe something more sinister is going on here and it does not bode well for the US. MBS is convinced that a Sunni-Shia war is inevitable and is recruiting Israel as a silent ally and the warmongers in DC are happy to play because of the obsession with Iran. The US needs to stay as far away from this as possible.

#11 Comment By Captain P On December 12, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

The Palestinians are being asked to give up their claims to Jerusalem in exchange for some parts of the Sinai desert? What idiot thinks that they’d accept that deal?

#12 Comment By KD On December 12, 2017 @ 4:56 pm

Oh, I get it, a Palestinian reservation on the Gaza strip. Don’t worry, they won’t need a standing army because Greater Israel will protect them.

I presume they will open a bunch of casinos, and the rest of the Palestinians will “choose” to relocate to the new land of opportunity.

#13 Comment By Lenny On December 12, 2017 @ 8:17 pm

If true, then MBS is dumber than what we thought.
What about Palestinians in Arab States? They will have no place to go to, and settling them in Lebanon Syria and Jordan will cause instability on top of what is there already.

Israeli are forewarned to read the history books . Saladin is respected in the Middle East by Baibars is adored.
This will foster decades of simmering hatred and will explode one day

#14 Comment By Whine Merchant On December 12, 2017 @ 8:52 pm

So, as Jared, his family, and his father-in-law salivate over real estate potential of the ‘terra nullis’ the rest of the world calls ‘occupied Palestine’, Israel eyes the lebensraum west of the Jordan River.

I understand that as gesture of good will, the settlers will offer displaced Palestinians infected blankets as they are marched onto the reservation in Gaza, as a part of their final solution.

#15 Comment By john On December 12, 2017 @ 10:53 pm

Is it theirs to give?

#16 Comment By rod usa On December 13, 2017 @ 4:42 am

Balfour Declaration
“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”
The UN has democratically decided and documented via resolutions its decision.

#17 Comment By Cererean On December 13, 2017 @ 8:18 am

What about a Palestinian state on the East Bank? Until 1974, when the Jordan government revoked it before it became against international law to do so, they had Jordanian citizenship. If Jordan could give it back to them, then that would be great.

#18 Comment By Winston On December 14, 2017 @ 12:56 am

Muslim leaders call for recognition of East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

#19 Comment By eyesspy On December 14, 2017 @ 12:49 pm

Everyone knows that those Ashkenazi Jews are not semitic so how can they claim they are Gods chosen people, Someone please answer this conundrum.

Further the Hebrews are told in the Torah not to attempt to have their own space until their ‘messiah’ arrives to put them in the land.

I guess the Western Powers represent God almighty…ya think