Saudi-Israeli rapprochement maybe under way: Biden

Ahram Online , AP , Sunday 30 Jul 2023

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that a potential deal may be on the way with Saudi Arabia after talks between his national security adviser and Saudi officials in Jeddah aimed at reaching a normalization in relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Saudi Arabia
A composite image of Crown Prince Mohammed and President Joe Biden. AP - AFP


"Rapprochement may be underway," Biden told contributors to his 2024 re-election campaign at an event in Freeport, Maine, Reuters reported.

However, specific details about the prospective deal were not disclosed by the President.

Biden's remarks seemingly contrast with his previous statements in a CNN interview broadcast on 9 July, in which he asserted that Israel and Saudi Arabia are a long way from a normalization agreement.

“We are a long way from there. We got a lot to talk about,” Biden said in an interview with Fareed Zakaria’s GPS.

“We are making progress in the region. And it depends upon the conduct and what is asked of us for them to recognize Israel,” Biden said at that time.

On Thursday, the American president dispatched to Jeddah National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Middle East Envoy Brett McGurk for talks with the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The wide-ranging talks in the Red Sea city covered initiatives to “advance a common vision for a more peaceful, secure, prosperous, and stable Middle East,” the White House said in a brief statement.

Sullivan and the Saudi prince also discussed the Biden administration’s hopes to normalize relations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, according to a White House National Security Council official familiar with the matter, as reported by AP. 

Sullivan’s visit comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to the kingdom in June in part "to promote normalization" between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, during Blinken’s visit, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that normalization with Tel Aviv would have “limited benefits” without “finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people.”

The Saudis have also shown hesitance to proceed with normalizing relations with Israel at a time when it is led by the most extremist government in its history, and when aggression against the Palestinians has soared in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with Fox News on Friday, that an Israeli-Saudi deal “could be very close if the Saudis want it, it is up to them.”

“I think this is a great thing if we have it. We will have tremendous economic benefits; it will have tremendous strategic benefits. It will be a blow to Iran and a boon to Israel and the US and the Arab world as well,” Netanyahu said.

US officials see a potential deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia as possible after the administration of former President Donald Trump reached similar agreements between Israel and Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates under the rubric of the 2020 Abraham Accords.

A potential normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel would require “significant concessions” to the Palestinians that are unlikely to be approved by Netanyahu’s hardline coalition, and could instead require him to seek the formation of a unity government, The New York Times reported.

Tom Friedman, known to have a close relationship with Biden, wrote in a New York Times column Thursday that these concessions might include an official Israeli promise never to annex the West Bank (as part of the 2020 normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates, Netanyahu agreed to hold off on actualizing his annexation pledge until 2024); a commitment not to establish any more settlements or expand the boundaries of existing ones; a commitment not to legalize any illegal outposts; and the relinquishing of some Palestinian-populated territory in Area C of the West Bank, which is controlled by Israel under the Oslo Accords.

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