Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi (C), Saudi Arabia s Ambassador to Palestine, speaks to journalists while accompanied by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (C-L) at the Palestinian foreign ministry headquarters in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. AFP
President Joe Biden is hoping to transform the Middle East -- and score an election-year diplomatic victory -- by securing recognition of Israel by Saudi Arabia.
"All sides have hammered out, I think, a basic framework for what, you know, what we might be able to drive at," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
"But, as in any complex arrangement, as this will inevitably be, everybody is going to have to do something. And everybody is going to have to compromise on some things."
The United States has urged its Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize diplomatic relations, following on from similar deals, referred to as the Abraham Accords, and involving the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
Riyadh has been seeking security guarantees, including reportedly a treaty, with the United States in return for normalizing with Israel, "even if Israel does not offer major concessions to Palestinians", three regional sources familiar with the talks told Reuters.
According to Reuters a pact might fall short of the cast-iron, NATO-style defence guarantees the kingdom initially sought when the issue was first discussed between bin Salman and Biden during the U.S. president's visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022.
Instead, a U.S. source told Reuters that it could look like treaties Washington has with Asian states or, if that would not win U.S. Congress approval, it could be similar to a U.S. agreement with Bahrain where the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet is based. Such an agreement would not need congressional backing.
Washington could also sweeten any deal by designating Saudi Arabia a Major Non-NATO Ally, a status already given to Israel, the U.S. source said.
But all the sources said to Reuters that Saudi Arabia would not settle for less than binding assurances of U.S. protection if it faced attack, such as the Sept. 14, 2019 missile strikes on its oil sites that rattled world markets. Riyadh and Washington blamed Iran, the kingdom's regional rival, although Tehran denied having a role.
The Palestinians could get some Israeli restrictions eased but such moves would fall short of their aspirations for a state. As with other Arab-Israeli deals forged over the decades, the Palestinian core demand for statehood would take a back seat, the three regional sources told Reuters.
But the Palestinians have warned that they must be taken into account in any deal, saying there can be no peace in the Middle East without a two-state solution.
"The normalisation will be between Israel and Saudi Arabia. If the Palestinians oppose it the kingdom will continue in its path," said one of the regional sources to Reuters. "Saudi Arabia supports a peace plan for the Palestinians, but this time it wanted something for Saudi Arabia, not just for the Palestinians."
Nevertheless, diplomats and the regional sources said MbS was insisting on some commitments from Israel to show he was not abandoning the Palestinians and that he was seeking to keep the door open to a two-state solution.
Those would include demanding Israel transfer some Israeli-controlled territory in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority (PA), limit Jewish settlement activity and halt any steps to annex parts of the West Bank. Riyadh has also promised financial aid to the PA, the diplomats and sources said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said any bargain must recognise the Palestinian right to a state within the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, and must stop Israeli settlement building.