The Saudi Foreign Ministry’s Statement and the Trajectory of the Palestinian Cause


The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs released an official statement on February 6, 2024, affirming to the United States that Riyadh would not pursue diplomatic relations with Israel unless a Palestinian state was established. The kingdom also emphasized that any normalization of relations hinges on the cessation of Israeli aggression and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

A statement from White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby prompted this Saudi announcement in which he mentioned that the Biden administration remained committed to facilitating normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudi stance has attracted significant domestic and international attention.  Not only does it reaffirm the kingdom’s position on the conflict, but it also has substantial implications for the crisis-related interactions, particularly amid ongoing developments in the Gaza conflict. Furthermore, the Saudi position is viewed as a crucial leverage point to exert pressure on the United States to influence Israel’s positions, especially concerning its unprecedented military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Context and Background

Before the Gaza conflict, intensive efforts were underway from the  US side to broker a breakthrough in normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Biden administration was on the verge of finalizing a historic agreement. However, the onset of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, followed by the intensive Israeli military campaign, halted progress on this front. In light of the extensive Israeli military offensive in Gaza, Saudi Arabia opted to block further discussions on normalization with the United States.

 Since the Gaza crisis began, the intensification of the conflict has resulted in devastating humanitarian consequences that are proving challenging to address. Following the initial attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, Israel responded with a deadly assault on Gaza, resulting in the deaths of at least 27,585 Palestinians and injuries to 66,978 others.  On the other hand, it is estimated that Hamas’ attack resulted in around 1,200 Israelis losing their lives.

As a result of the Israeli offensive, approximately 85% of Gaza’s population has been displaced and residents have faced shortages of critical supplies like food, clean water and medicine. The United Nations reports that 60% of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure has been damaged or completely destroyed since the onset of the conflict.

Additionally, the Israeli political right has expressed staunch opposition to the concept of a two-state solution, initially favoring the relocation of Gaza’s population to  Egypt. However, there has been a notable shift in Arab orientations,  particularly inside Saudi Arabia, with a renewed emphasis on the Palestinian cause. This shift has unified Arab states in their positions, leading to significant tensions with the United States over its unwavering support for Israel. Such tensions have added to the volatility on the regional and global stage.

Over the last few months, the Biden administration has exerted efforts to leverage its influence over its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, to mobilize support for its coordinated approach with Israel in the context of the Gaza war. However, its regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, have rejected the US-Israel position on Gaza. Despite the uncertainty regarding the conflict’s outcome and future scenarios central to US foreign policy as reflected through the visits of high-profile US officials,  the Biden administration continues to hold hope for restarting negotiations on normalization with Saudi Arabia.   The normalization process was seen as advantageous to Biden’s 2024 election campaign and a means to advancing his administration’s regional influence.  Moreover, the administration hoped to leverage its relationship with Riyadh to address the fallout of the Gaza war, with the kingdom viewed as a pivotal catalyst for change and conflict resolution in the region.

The United States aims to delink the trajectory of the Palestinian cause from the path of normalization,  thus heightening the pressure on the Palestinians and casting them into a hopeless position.  This approach also aims to impose a new reality, potentially impacting neighboring countries, particularly Egypt and Jordan. In this context, Washington has exerted pressure on Riyadh. Notably, in January 2023, President Biden dispatched three senior advisors to Riyadh, with  Washington stating that their objective was to discuss bilateral and regional issues,  including initiatives to foster a shared vision based on peace, security, prosperity, stability and interconnectedness.  

However, as the Gaza conflict has escalated and spiraled out of control, the United States has realized that its regional strategy and influence hinges on cooperation with its allies. Consequently, the  Biden administration started to listen to regional voices, especially of Saudi Arabia and gradually started to shift its position on the Gaza conflict.  This shift has led to the Biden administration calling for a  truce and ceasefire, a departure from its initial position of supporting a complete elimination of the Palestinian resistance, which is now deemed as a potential catalyst for a broader regional conflict.

Dimensions and Significations

The Saudi position has important  dimensions and significations including the following:

Divergent Saudi and  US Positions Under The Biden Administration

It appears that Saudi Arabia has expressed its discomfort with US efforts to normalize relations with Israel, especially against the backdrop of the Gaza war.   Despite the Palestinian suffering and slow momentum for a ceasefire, there seemed to be a US willingness to proceed with the normalization track separately from the Palestinian issue.  Saudi Arabia’s announced position on its commitment to a two-state solution came directly after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Riyadh and the response of White House National Security Spokesperson  John Kirby during a press briefing on February 6, 2023. When asked whether securing a hostage deal between Hamas and Israel and the normalization process between Saudi Arabia and Israel were part of the same  US efforts, Kirby said, “These are two different things.” The Saudi announcement seems to thwart any attempt by the Biden administration to separate the conflict resolution process from the normalization path it envisions.

 Reasserting the Longstanding Saudi Position on the Palestinian Cause

While the recent Saudi announcement reasserts the kingdom’s unwavering commitment to the Palestinian cause, it is not a novel development. Just a few days earlier, on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan underscored this Saudi position in an interview with CNN on January 20, 2024. There can be no normalization of ties with Israel without resolving the Palestinian issue, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told CNN.  These remarks emphasized Saudi Arabia’s enduring position on the Palestinian matter and its commitment to securing the rights of the Palestinian people.  This position stands in contrast to the position of the Netanyahu government, which has consistently rejected the idea of a Palestinian state.

This recent announcement emphasizes the kingdom’s steadfast commitment to its position despite pressure from the United States and objections from Israel. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has consistently offered robust political backing to the Palestinians since the onset of the Gaza crisis. It has voiced sharp criticism of the Netanyahu government’s positions and statements while employing its political and diplomatic tools to mitigate the devastating impacts of the conflict. Additionally, the kingdom has extended substantial humanitarian support to the Gaza Strip, including relief convoys delivered by air, sea and land, alongside significant public donations surpassing $166 million.

A Strong Position Opposed to the Israeli Approach and Policies

The Saudi announcement went beyond merely expressing commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state; it also emphasized the necessity for the cessation of Israeli aggression and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip. This position reflects a significant shift in the Arab world’s focus back to the primacy of the Palestinian issue. Furthermore, it underscores Arab consensus on key demands, including ending Israeli aggression and military withdrawal from Gaza as well as establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with international law.  Simultaneously, it unequivocally rejects the extremist policies of Israel and their persistent violation of Palestinian rights. Netanyahu previously rejected a proposal from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, which was premised on  Saudi normalization with Israel in exchange for establishing a Palestinian state.

Attempts to Obtain International Recognition for the Establishment of a  Palestinian State

With its recent announcement, Saudi Arabia is not merely declaring a position (paying lip service) but actively seeking to obtain international recognition for establishing a Palestinian state, particularly from the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The Saudi announcement urges the UN Security Council and its permanent members to expedite the recognition of  a Palestinian state, and it emphasizes the need to secure Palestinian rights and achieve a comprehensive and just peace for all. This move from Saudi Arabia signals a concerted effort to exert pressure on Israel, the United States and the broader international community, leveraging the current circumstances to shift the discourse/narrative concerning the Palestinian issue. While Netanyahu has largely dismissed a two-state solution, and a considerable portion of Israelis oppose a framework based on pre-1967 borders, the Saudi announcement places the onus on the UN Security Council members to take action.

Consequences and Implications

The announcement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry has sparked significant debate regarding its implications and  impacts on various levels, notably including the following:

 A Decline in Prioritizing Normalization

Given Saudi Arabia’s unequivocal position,  which links the normalization of relations with Israel to the future of a Palestinian state, as well as the cessation of military operations and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and considering the Netanyahu government’s refusal to establish a Palestinian state along with the complexities surrounding the restoration of pre-June 5, 1967 conditions, it is apparent that the prospect of normalization is currently unattainable, let alone a return to negotiations. The trajectory of the conflict, coupled with the post-Gaza war changes, including shifts in regional dynamics and the impending  US elections, suggest that normalization will not be a priority in the next phase.  This applies not only to Saudi Arabia but also to Israel and the United States, given the resolute Saudi response to the Biden administration’s attempt to separate the two trajectories.

A Lever to Put Pressure on the Biden Administration and  Netanyahu Government

The Saudi position serves as a significant leverage point for the Biden administration to exert more tremendous pressure on the extremist Israeli government, pushing for a change in its positions or encouraging collaboration with more moderate parties. This was evident from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s remarks following his visit to Riyadh on February 6, 2024, when he emphasized that the Israeli government must make challenging decisions and move toward a two-state solution if it wishes to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. Despite the Netanyahu government’s rejection of a two-state solution, it finds itself in a precarious situation where external pressures, including  US pressure, may compel a shift. The Biden administration has come to recognize the primacy and importance of comprehensive peace over limited normalization.

Strengthening  International Momentum to Recognize a  Palestinian State

By directing Saudi Arabia’s call for recognition of  a Palestinian state to members of the UN Security Council, notably the United States, rather than to Israel, Riyadh appears to be offering a workaround to the Netanyahu government’s rejection of a two-state solution. Additionally, it signals support for an international pathway toward recognizing a Palestinian state to exert pressure on Israel. This approach capitalizes on international sympathy and cooperation with the Palestinians following the Gaza tragedy, alongside shifting positions of certain governments on the conflict. For instance, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron announced that his government is contemplating recognizing an independent Palestinian state. Moreover, Axios News reported that the United States is considering a similar step after previously rejecting it for an extended period, citing the necessity for Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a two-state solution.

Charting a Roadmap for Regional Stability

The Saudi  position outlines a roadmap  for sustainable stability and underscores the kingdom’s significant initiative to secure regional security and stability.  This initiative is grounded in principles of justice and stability, aiming to replace chaos and conflict. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan emphasized that genuine peace cannot be achieved without a just solution to the Palestinian issue. He stated, “For the region to see true peace, to see real integration that delivers economic and social benefits for all of us, including Israel, is through peace, through a credible irreversible process through a Palestinian state.”

Enhancing Regional Standing and Leadership

The Saudi position epitomizes a state of Arab consensus, possibly extending to regional and international levels as well. Consequently, it bolsters Saudi Arabia’s standing and regional leadership. This decisive position also thwarts attempts to undermine the kingdom’s status and reputation in the Arab and Islamic worlds, affirming the consistency of its positions in the context of pivotal issues for which it bears responsibility, given its religious and historical significance. This consistency is evident in the widespread celebration of the Saudi announcement across various political spectrums and currents. Furthermore, the Saudi position is poised to significantly impact the ongoing conflict in Gaza, which has drawn widespread domestic and international attention. It represents a potent lever to apply pressure, reflecting a unified position, both officially and domestically,  against Israeli aggression. Should Israel and its extremist leaders persist in their course without recognizing shifts in regional dynamics, they risk gambling the country’s entire future.


The  Saudi position, which links the path of normalization to the realization of Palestinian priorities — halting Israeli aggression, military withdrawal from Gaza, and the establishment of a  Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital — has resonated widely. Many view it as a recalibration of regional dynamics, steering interactions toward sustainable peace and stability instead of the chaos stemming from the neglect of Palestinian rights. This position underscores the success of Saudi policy in the preceding period, marked by efforts to de-escalate regional tensions and address issues, laying the groundwork for a new Middle East founded on security, stability and the welfare of its peoples. Above all, it underscores the urgency of reaching a definitive settlement for occupied Palestine and its displaced population, a pressing concern amidst the geopolitical maneuvers of numerous countries and organizations.

Editorial Team