Saudi diplomacy amongst Arab countries has been very active recently, and coming up soon the Kingdom will host the next meeting of the Arab league. As part of this recent activity, the Saudi foreign minister paid a visit to Syria last week and for the first time since 2011, met with President Bashar Assad.
Although it is well known the UAE was behind the campaign to re-engage with Syria in recent years, Saudi Arabia’s engagement could be the most important step towards Syria’s return to the Arab League. The Saudis may be willing to play a major role in returning Syria to the fold by the price may be a political solution plan where the Syrian regime agrees to serious reforms such as the return of refugees, the release of prisoners and greater inclusion of the opposition in their political system. While they may just be looking at bringing Syria back into the Arab fold, it is also critical to address the underlying issues that are isolating Syria from the international community, and in particular the US.
This rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria has parallels to the 1980s when a dispute between the two countries sparked due to differing visions regarding the Saudi’s Arab peace initiative that was resolved with the Arab solidarity agreement and led to Syrian troops defending the Gulf as part of the international coalition following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in 1990.
The Saudis have also returned their attention to the Palestinian issue, as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been in Riyadh for meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Interestingly, also visiting at the same time was a delegation of his rivals Hamas including Ismail Haniyeh and Khalid Mashal.
The return of Hamas to Saudi Arabia is significant and gives the Saudis more leverage in Palestine, as the UAE, the other active gulf country is allied to Dahlan against Abbas on one side and is in open conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood, and by default Hamas, on the other. This means that if the Saudis want to renew their Arab Peace Initiative, they should engage with all the Palestinian factions, as the only player who can. This is also an important time for the Saudis who are applying a strategy of zero conflict in the region, especially with Iran. This neutral position will transform the Kingdom’s role to that of a mediator offering solutions for the pending problems of the region.
The Saudi re-positioning and engagement on Palestine also comes at a critical time in the US political cycle as the new Saudi-Israeli peace might be the only success for the Biden administration in Middle Eastern politics.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh