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The US Should Not Tie Israel-Saudi Normalization to a Palestinian State

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday Oct. 14, 2023. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters this week that Saudi Arabia still has a “clear interest” in normalizing relations with Israel, but that moving forward would require a “practical pathway” to Palestinian statehood. By tying Saudi-Israel normalization to Palestinian statehood, Blinken is once again handing Palestinians the ability to veto regional peace and security.

The prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord have been remote for almost two decades. With Hamas entrenching itself in Gaza and legitimacy slipping away from the corrupt Palestinian Authority (PA), led by an aged and ailing Mahmoud Abbas, there is no leader both willing and capable of hammering out peace with the Israelis.

Even before October 7, Israeli-Palestinians relations were getting worse, not better. Israelis were already experiencing a year of deadly terror attacks emanating from the West Bank, where the PA has increasingly lost its ability to maintain a modicum of law and order.

While the prospect of Palestinian statehood remains more elusive than ever, normalization between Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Sunni Arab world, and the Jewish state appears to be within reach. And the benefits of a Saudi-Israel normalization deal are myriad.

On the security front, normalization would facilitate increased military cooperation between Israel and the Arab Gulf states, who are seeking a credible deterrent to Iran, especially at a time when Washington is so hesitant to stand up to the regime in Tehran.

Saudi-Israel normalization would also help to realize the vision, shared by the United States and many others, of an economic corridor that would connect India to Europe through the Middle East, traversing both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The corridor would provide a potential alternative to China’s Belt & Road Initiative, which many of Beijing’s partners have begun to see as a recipe for debt and corruption. Building this corridor requires a stable, secure, and peaceful Gulf region, a goal advanced by improving Israeli relations with the Arab world.

While Riyadh and Jerusalem have been quietly drawing closer for years, this convergence represents a major reversal of long-held Saudi foreign policy. Saudi Arabia had previously been a patron of the Palestinian cause and financed Palestinian terror during the Second Intifada, which lasted from 2000-2005.

A major turning point came with the ascent of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), who has been running Saudi Arabia since 2015, even though his ailing father remains king.

One might describe MBS as an iron-fisted reformer, a combination that is uncomfortable for Western friends. He wants to move the Saudi economy beyond a reliance on fossil fuels, favors regional integration, and seeks to stamp out Islamic extremism. He considers the Arab conflict with Israel to be an inheritance holding his kingdom back.

In October 2020, former US president Donald Trump announced that Saudi Arabia would soon forge ties with Israel. Trump lost his election the following month, which some speculate delayed movement with the normalization agenda. However, progress did not totally stall. In September of 2023, MBS discussed the prospects of normalization with Israel during a Fox News television interview saying, “every day we get closer” to an agreement with Israel.

Importantly MBS did not condition peace with Israel on a Palestinian state, instead, he said that any agreement should “ease the life of the Palestinians.”

Even after the events of October 7 and the pervasive criticism of Israel’s response, Riyadh continues to signal it favors normalization, as Blinken reported. On a phone call with President Biden on October 24, MBS reportedly affirmed that Riyadh and Washington would continue to “build on the work that was already underway” between the US and Saudi Arabia in recent months, implying Saudi normalization with Israel. After Saudi Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman visited Washington in late October, White House spokesman John Kirby said he was “confident” that the Saudis were interested in pursuing normalization with Israel.

The Saudis’ weight as the custodians of Mecca and Medina means that normalization could embolden numerous other Arab and Muslim-majority countries to follow the Saudi example. There is even some hope that Riyadh, perhaps in concert with other Gulf and Arab states, will help to stabilize and rebuild Gaza after the war. Normalization with Israel would pave the way to a Saudi playing a central role when it is time to restore Gaza.

Saudi normalization with Israel would be a boon for peace and stability, even if the threat posed by Hamas’ Iranian patrons and their other proxies would remain acute.

Amid a devastating war, the dream of peace between Israelis and Palestinians may seem especially alluring. Yet if Biden and Blinken pause to consider what is realistic, then they should consolidate the emerging peace between Jerusalem and Riyadh, rather than undermine it in the name of an unachievable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Israel Program and the FDD National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on X at @EKrivine

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Brown University Investigating Threats of Violence Sent to Hillel Officials

More than 200 Brown University students gathered outside University Hall where roughly 40 students sat inside demanding the school divest from weapons manufacturers amid the Israel-Hamas war. Photo: Amy Russo / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

Two officials of Brown-RISD Hillel, a Jewish life  center serving both Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, were sent “violent threats” early Sunday morning, according to a report by The Brown Daily Herald.

After being alerted of threats, which were sent via email, the university’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) conducted a search of Brown-RISD Hillel and determined there is “no evidence of any one-site threat.” DPS vice president Rodney Chatman told The Brown Daily Herald that “local, state, and federal authorities” are investigating the incident.

“This comes at an especially difficult time of distress on our campuses,” Brown University president Christina H. Paxson said in a statement addressing the incident. “Our students, faculty, and staff continue to grapple with the deaths of Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the wake of the October 7 attacks, as well as a despicable act of violence against a member of the Brown community here in the United States last November, and increases in reports of antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate.”

In Sunday’s statement President Paxson said that “robust” security measures will be implemented to protect Brown-RISD Hillel, as well as the officials who were threatened, from harm.

The incident is not the first antisemitic act of hatred since Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

In December, the university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity opened an investigation into an incident in which someone slipped a threatening note underneath the door of an off-campus apartment rented by Jewish students.

“Those who live for death will die by their own hand,” said the note, which, according to the Brown Daily Herald, matches lyrics from a song by an early 1980s punk band. The paper added that the note was found by an electrician, who brought it inside.

A similar incident occurred last November at a Brown-RISD Hillel. Additionally, in 2020, a swastika was graffitied in Brown’s Hegeman Hall. In 2017, another was found in a gender-neutral bathroom at RISD. It was drawn using human feces, according to the Brown Daily Herald.

Last week, President Paxson rejected the demands of anti-Zionist students who were participating in a hunger strike in an effort to force the Brown Corporation to vote on a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel and make other concessions.

The university has twice ordered the arrests of extremist anti-Zionists student protesters, who have held unauthorized demonstrations in administration buildings, sometimes occupying them for hours after being asked to leave. Over 40 were arrested in December while onlookers shouted “Shame on Brown, Shame on Brown!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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‘Free Palestine:’ Texas Church Shooter Suspected of Having Pro-Hamas Ideology

Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36, shot a man at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, on February 12, 2024. Photo: Twitter

A woman who stormed a church in Houston, Texas, on Sunday with an AR-15 rifle and shot one person before being killed by police was apparently a Hamas supporter, according to details on the incident reported by CNN.

On Monday, the outlet reported that “Free Palestine” was written on the shooter’s rifle.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the shooter has since been identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36. The woman has an extensive criminal history which includes arrests for marijuana possession, assault, theft, and forgery.

On Sunday afternoon, Moreno walked into the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas — an institution famous for being the church of charismatic Christian preacher Joel Osteen — with a child and a gun. Wearing a trench coat and a knapsack, she threatened to have explosives, according to multiple reports. Most of the worshipers in attendance were Hispanic and attending a Spanish language service.

Moreno shot one man, leaving him critically injured, and was shot and killed by Houston Police. A child was also shot during the incident, but police are still unsure of whether they or Moreno are responsible for doing it.

“I want to commend those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse,”  Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said during a press conference later in the day.

An investigation of Moreno’s motives is ongoing.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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London Theater Facing Legal Action After Comedy Show Turns Into ‘Antisemitic Rally’

British comedian Paul Currie. Photo: Instagram

A London theater is facing legal action after an Israeli man was hounded out of a comedy show on Saturday night by a comedian performing a one-man show that turned into what some audience members compared to an “antisemitic rally.”

A spokesperson for the UK’s Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) said the group was in touch with the Israeli man and other members of the audience who fled from the theater.

“What the Jewish audience members have recounted is atrocious, and we are working with them and our lawyers to ensure that those who instigated and enabled it are held to account,” the CAA spokesperson told London’s Evening Standard news outlet. “These allegations are of deeply disturbing discriminatory abuse against Jews. Comedians are rightly given broad latitude, but hounding Jews out of theaters is reminiscent of humanity’s darkest days, and must have no place in central London in 2024.”

The comedian, Paul Currie, had been performing a one-man show entitled “Shtoom” at London’s Soho Theater. Towards the end of his performance, he retrieved a Ukrainian and Palestinian flag and invited members to stand and applaud.

After the round of applause was over, Currie pointed to a man in the second row of the theater and quizzed him over why he had not stood up.

The unnamed man, an Israeli, replied, “I enjoyed your show until you brought out the Palestinian flag.” An infuriated Currie began screaming, “Leave my show now! Get out of my f—-ing show!” in response.

As the man and his partner rose to leave, accompanied by a handful of other shocked audience members, the assembled crowd began chanting “Get out” and “Free Palestine.”

In a written complaint to the theater over his treatment, the man wrote: ” Shaken and feeling threatened by the growing antagonism, we exited and tried to complain/ get some support from the front-of-house team at the theatre, who were not very sympathetic but did give us an email address to make a complaint. By this time, the show had ended and the audience started exiting, a number of whom were glaring at us aggressively and in a very threatening way. We all left the scene.”

He added: “Our friends later received a message from someone they knew who had also been at the show, saying that after we left, the situation became even more inflamed. What had been intended to be an evening of comedy turned out to be what felt like an antisemitic rally.”

The theater eventually apologized, issuing a statement expressing regret an “an incident that took place at our venue at the end of a performance of Paul Currie: Shtoom on Saturday 10 February, which has caused upset and hurt to members of audience attending and others.” It added: “We take this very seriously and are looking into the detail of what happened as thoroughly, as sensitively, and as quickly as we can. It is important to us that Soho theatre is a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”

Currie has remained largely silent since the incident, save for a post on Instagram which quoted Mexican poet Cesar A. Cruz saying: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”  He then added: “If you were at my show last night… you’ll know.”

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