‘Normalization of Saudi-Israeli ties should involve Palestine’

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Blinken says US still encourages Israel and the Palestinian Authority to move toward and ultimately achieve a two-state solution…reports Asian Lite News

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel remains “difficult,” and that any agreement between the two should address issues with Palestine.

The secretary gave those remarks in response to a question from a press conference attended also by visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the State Department.

“Even as we are working on this,” Blinken said, referring to a potential agreement that would normalize the historically fraught ties between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, “it remains a difficult proposition.”

“The specifics of any agreement in terms of what the different parties are looking for are challenging,” he said.

A future Saudi-Israeli deal “would not be a substitute for Israel and the Palestinians also resolving their difference,” Blinken said, adding that the United States still encourages the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to move toward and ultimately achieve a two-state solution.

“Any agreement that might be reached between Israel and Saudi Arabia when it comes to normalization would need to include a significant component for the Palestinians,” he said, stressing that he made the stance clear in his conversations with the Saudi leadership.

The Biden administration has sought to broker the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both countries, however, have done things that upset Washington since U.S. President Joe Biden took office.

For example, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to push ahead with a controversial judicial overhaul despite U.S. concerns. And the Saudi authorities have slashed oil production along with its OPEC partners against U.S. wishes.

These and other contexts prompted a question at the press conference about whether it is worth it for the United States to mediate a rapprochement between two of the most powerful yet mutually antagonistic nations in the Middle East.

Calling the normalization a “transformative event in the Middle East and well beyond,” Blinken said, “the benefit that would accrue, were we able to achieve it, would certainly be worth the effort.”

He said that the Biden administration also expects “progress on a number of issues in a number of areas that clearly are” in the interests of the United States.  

Anticipation and rumors are growing about the potential normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel – two of America’s most important allies in the Middle East whose ties have never formally existed.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t recognize Israel as a state and has refused to do so since the latter’s independence in 1948. But after decades of tension, recent years saw discrete but growing cooperation between the two.

The shared threat perception of Iran, a longtime common adversary, has brought the two closer together in terms of coordination and intelligence sharing, according to numerous reports and admissions by Israeli officials.

Saudi Arabia has also allowed Israeli airlines to fly over its territory in recent years, and Israel officials reported that Saudi Arabia received help from Israeli cybersecurity firms to fend off certain cyberattacks. The rise of non-state actors and the perceived threat of political Islamists, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring, also contributed to a sense of shared interests among Gulf states and Israel.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Riyadh is offering to restart its funding of the Palestinian Authority in order to gain its leader Mahmoud Abbas’ support for open relations with Israel.

A deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia could dramatically reshape the geopolitics of the Middle East.

But major barriers remain in the way of official normalization, which is a major goal of the Biden administration’s foreign policy and one his team is trying to achieve during the president’s current term.

One is the issue of Palestinian statehood, and another is the raft of demands that Saudi Arabia has of the U.S., including demands for U.S. security guarantees and support for its own civilian nuclear program. And Israel, currently led by the most right-wing government in its history, is very unlikely to want to meet Saudi demands for concessions to the Palestinians.

“I think there is finally a lot of momentum from the Biden administration to push normalization forward, but there are very clear challenges that won’t be easily bridged,” Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, said.

“If something is going to develop, it would most likely require broader discussions on Palestine, and in the current climate in Israel, I think that is impossible to achieve,” she said.

Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, giving it a crucial role in the Muslim world where Palestinian statehood is deeply cared about. Israel’s current government led by Benjamin Netanyahu has no intention of giving major concessions to the Palestinians; Netanyahu in early August told Bloomberg TV that any minor gestures on his part toward Palestinians would essentially be “just a box you have to check to say that you’re doing it.”

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