The so-called “two state solution” for the ongoing crisis in the Levant has been nearly unanimously adopted by countries around the world, as well as the United Nations. In spite of this, much opposition continues to be roused by opposition parties, activists, academics and religious figures on all sides of the Israel-Palestine debate.
Among those rejecting the two state solution are those who state that the theft of any Palestinian land is as grave an injustice as the theft of all. Others look logistically at how a map of a bifurcated Palestine would realistically survive, being broken up geographically by a would-be hostile Israeli state. Likewise, many Israelis see the prospect of any Palestinian state as dangerous while many Palestinians see the idea of dividing a small historically unified area as an insult to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious harmony which existed in Palestine prior to 1948.
As with most things to do with geo-politics, pragmatical realities, however unjust, tend to be the guiding force which shapes events, more than any ethical considerations.
This is where Saudi steps in. Saudi Arabia as a geo-political entity, has been uniformly destructive for the Middle East. Riyadh’s violent exporting of Wahhabism through handsomely paid proxy militants, political agitators and “religious” proselytisers has sowed discord throughout the world from Iraq to the Maghreb and Balkans. In many ways, Saudi’s negative influence has extended even beyond this.
But while the reach of Saudi’s negative influence has been well documented, the titanic geo-politcal failures of Saudi’s region spanning ‘project Wahhabisation’ have been less documented, even though the sting of these failure is being felt by many in Saudi itself, including and most importantly, by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS).
Consider the following list of failures of Saudi’s traditional foreign policy over the last few decades:
1. Aim: Destroy Syria’s secular government and pave the wave for a friendly Takfiri state
2. Aim: Dethrone Saddam Hussein and establish long-term Saudi influence in historic Mesopotamia
Result: FAIL–Iraq’s majority Shi’a population is allied with Iran and will be for the foreseeable future.
3. Aim: Prevent a new alliance forming between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah
Result: MASSIVE FAIL–Saudi’s aggressive policies towards Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah only helped to draw the aforementioned states and Lebanese party together.
4. Aim: Use the combination of economic and geo-political influence to artificially inflate the cost of oil for decades to come:
Result: FAIL–Saudi is now largely dependant on non-OPEC Russia to prevent oil prices from dropping into the basement. In the 1970s, Saudi helped sink western economies with increased oil prices. Now it is Russia that could sink Saudi.
5. Aim: Prevent non-Arab influence in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf
Result: FAIL–the Qatar crisis has only enhanced the prestige of Iran and Turkey in the region while economic realities have enhanced the position of both China and Russia.
6. Aim: Quickly and decisively win the conflict in Yemen and in so doing, bring Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power in Sana’a.
Result: Embarrassing and prolonged fail against poorly armed Houthi fighters
When all of this is examined in its aggregate effect, it is not difficult to see why Mohammad bin Salman seeks to implement drastic changes to Saudi on the eve of his assumption of the throne. MBS is not motivated by ideology, let alone compassion, but he realises that if the status quo is broken, something needs to change.
As I previously stated,
“While MBS has often been thought of as a hardliner because of his hand in the dispute with Qatar and the horrific war on Yemen, in reality, MBS is something of Saudi’s rebel prince without a cause. The fact that his Qatar and Yemen policies have been disastrous is a symptom not of his intractability but more poignantly, of his lack of originality.
Now though, in the potential to diversify Saudi’s geo-political and geo-economic portfolio through new Eurasian and East Asian partnerships (Russia and China, in particular), MBS seems to have found his cause. As the leader of the “Vision 2030” plan which seeks to create a modern Saudi economy that is less than totally dependant on energy exports, MBS has struggled to find a place for Saudi in world that doesn’t begin at the oil pump and end in a car’s fuel tank. However, with increasingly few options from Saudis’ traditional western partners in respect of economic diversification, MBS is turning east.
Indeed, many have said openly, that the US would like to see, or might even try and foment a palace coup in Saudi, where the young and seemingly pugnacious MBS would be replaced by his former predecessor as Crown Prince, the currently house-arrested Muhammad bin Nayef (MBN).
Unlike MBS, MBN has little ambition to do anything other than continue the status quo of being dependant on energy based financial transactions with the US and European countries. MBS however, is clearly considering a future for Saudi where Russia and China will have a large role as economic partners.
Perhaps because of his youth, MBS has been able to see (or his advisers have been able to see) that as China asserts itself as the world’s most powerful and dynamic economy, the petro-trade will likely shift from one based on the petrodollar to the petroyuan.
While China, like Russia, does not particularly care about Saudi’s internal affairs, the message from Saudi is clear: a change is in the air and this will be most immediately felt in a foreign policy that is more pragmatic, less ambitions and consequently less “extreme”.
While the US does not care about Saudi’s internal socio-political situation any more than China and Russia, the US generally fears change in Riyadh, especially if this changes makes Saudi less inter-dependant on the US financial system. In this respect, Saudi’s sociological insularity has gone hand in hand with a predictable, however radical foreign policy.
The Saudi Monarch’s meeting with Vladimir Putin was very much casually related to the statement made by MBS, however, it has nothing to do with making Saudi into a Ba’athist or Nasserist style state on the model of traditional Russian and Soviet allies. On the contrary, Saudi is still a Wahhabi state and always will be, even if some of the more hard-line pronunciations from Wahhabi clerics are moderated by a slightly less insular political outlook. The shift instead, has everything to do with keeping ideology local, but economic opportunities diverse and global”.
Part of MBS’ plan for a ‘revived’ Saudi state is his “Vision 2030” programme, a broad if not vague set of plans which aims to make Saudi less dependant on the energy market as the basis of the country’s economy by 2030. Clearly, he will need help to accomplish this and he seems all too aware that such help will not come from the US which has vested interests in the status quo. Instead, such investment will come from China and Russia, who are already quietly preparing to ween the Wahhabi kingdom off the Petrodollar and toilet train it on the Petroyuan.
Into this fray, shortly after announcing a “return” to moderate Islam away from the most radical elements of Wahhabism, MBS announced plans to create a super-city under the project name NEOM, to be located on the Gulf of Aqaba near the Jordanian border.
I personally have my doubts as to the practicability of such a city which is supposed to be 30 times the size of New York. However, if the project was downsized, I cannot see why it would not accomplish at least some of the stated goals.
In order to more easily accomplish the realisation of NEOM, geo-political expert Andrew Korybko states that Saudi will only hasten its all but inevitable drive towards recognising the Israeli regime as a state.
“The Gulf of Aqaba was chosen not just because it would allow NEOM to spread into Egypt and Jordan, but also because of its proximity to Israel, which is promoting its “Red-Med” railway proposal as the perfect Mideast complementary component of the New Silk Road. Tel Aviv keenly knows that the Chinese are always looking for backup plans and transport route diversification in order to not be too dependent on any single connectivity corridor, and in this case, overland rail transit from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Eastern Mediterranean via Israel comes off as exceedingly attractive to Beijing’s strategists. Furthermore, China has fantastic relations with both Saudi Arabia and Israel, so from Beijing’s perspective, this is the perfect Mideast “win-win”, especially if the People’s Republic can find a way to insinuate that its possible financing of both the NEOM and “Red-Med” projects contributed to bringing peace to the Mideast.
In addition, there’s also the Russian factor to take into consideration, and it’s objectively known – though commonly denied in the Alt-Media Community – that Moscow and Tel Aviv are on excellent terms with one another and basically cooperate as allies in Syria. When accounting for the fast-moving Russian-Saudi rapprochement and Moscow’s envisioned 21st-century grand strategic role in becoming the supreme balancing force in Eurasia, it’s likely that Russia would be in favor of any Saudi recognition of Israel and Tel Aviv’s integration into the NEOM project because it would then allow the Russian business elite both in the Russian Federation and Israel to invest in this exciting city-state and the complementary “Red-Med” Silk Road corridor.
Seeing as how Mohammed Bin Salman is trying to purge the clerics’ political influence from the Kingdom, it’s very possible that Saudi Arabia will end up recognizing Israel in the near future and blaming its decades-long delay in doing so on the Wahhabis. The grand intent behind this isn’t just to formalize the Saudi-Israeli anti-Iranian partnership or to show the world just how serious the Crown Prince is in changing the course of his country, but to please Riyadh’s newfound Multipolar Great Power partners in Moscow and Beijing, both of which enjoy exceptional relations with Tel Aviv but would probably be reluctant to invest in the Kingdom’s NEOM city-state project so long as its connectivity access remained dependent on the Suez Canal chokepoint”.
The necessary regional integration surrounding NEOM that Korybko refers to, sounds a lot like the kind of free trade/freedom of movement zones which tend to grow out either from areas surrounding free cities/free ports or more elaborate trading unions such as the Eurasian Economic Union or European Union.
All of the sudden, the conventional wisdom of airtight borders surrounding the states of the Red Sea/East Med region is thrown into question. Such a loosening of borders and enhanced cooperation between incredibly different regimes, could not only go a ways towards de-escalating conflicts, but interestingly, could divided the conflicts of the Arab world in half, thus isolating the two zones, including the conflicts therein, from one another. The region where Saudi meets the Levant is surprisingly cut off from the so-called Shi’a crescent of Iran, Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. In this sense, one sees a middle east that is divided between both north and south with Russia and China acting as powers who uniquely share interests and good relations on all sides. In terms of the US, most of its allies fall in the southern zone, although these countries are all slowly but surely pivoting towards a far more Russia/China friendly geo-strategic stance.
In this sense, one sees a north Arab region into which one can include non-Arab Iran and also possibly Turkey which is offset by an Arab south region which includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and non-Arab inhabitants of Israel.
Palestine’s friends are clearly all in the northern segment of this ‘new Middle East’ but Palestine’s occupier only has the prospect of practical friendship in the southern segment. In the case of Jordan and Egypt, Tel Aviv has already achieved this.
This poses both a danger and an opportunity for Palestine. On the one hand, if Tel Aviv concentrates on both co-opting and being co-opted by states like Saudi, Egypt and Jordan who in recent decades have shown little enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, there is a danger that Palestinian land could become a tragic ghetto of isolation in an otherwise booming region. However, on the other hand, the idea of prosperity trickling horizontally across a newly booming economic region could actually take the wind out of the sails of the Israel-Palestine conflict, something which in the long term bodes well for Palestine reclaiming its full statehood. This is the case because if the Tel Aviv regime becomes fully immersed in a mostly Arab led regional prosperity initiative, having to contend with rightfully angry Palestinians could only exorcise all parties. Furthermore, Palestinian grievances in a would-be south-Arab ghetto could further incur the wrath of Palestine’s meaningful allies including Lebanon (aka Hezbollah), Syria, non-Arab Iran and in the future, quote possibly a revitalised and almost certainly pro-Palestine Iraq. Wanting to keep such countries away from Saudi’s ‘south Arab’ project would be in the interests (however selfish) of Saudi, Jordan, Egypt and the regime in Tel Aviv.
And here is where a peaceful one-state solution could come into play. Rather than divide a portion of an increasingly inter-dependent south-Arab region (aka the two-state solution), leaving open the possibility of Syria, Hezbollah, Iraq and non-Arab Iran playing a part in this new region via the Palestinian back door, it might instead be easier to create a single state along the pre-1947 Palestinian borders that could be described as Palestine with cosmopolitan characterises or perhaps Israel with Arab characteristics, depending on the demographics and political will of various countries in ten years or more from today.
Just as Lebanon is a cosmopolitan country that is increasingly tied in with the north-Arab region, so too could this new Palestine be a kind of cosmopolitan bridge to the south, a place which like Lebanon has a shared history that at times has been peaceful and at others has been horrific. Tragically, Israeli meddling is by far the greatest author of mystery in both Palestine and Lebanon.
Ultimately, unless something radically changes in Egypt, Jordan or Saudi, the kind of good will that countries like Syria has for Palestine will never be present in the new ‘south Arab’ bloc. However, pragmatism which would come about in the ‘new Arab south’ to spite countries like Syria and groups like Hezbollah, could indeed force a pragmatic one-state solution based on the peace that is implicit in the need to pacific a region in order to make it ‘prosperity friendly’. In this sense, Palestine could breath a much needed breath after decades of asphyxiation, while Palestine friends in the ‘new Arab north’ would have something of a last laugh as they have got a decades long running start in developing key relations with China and Russia.
This situation is both far from assured and also far from ideal in many ways. It is however, a possible solution which still represents some improvement on the hopeless status quo.