*** ----> Saudi-Israel ties: Progress in sight | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Saudi-Israel ties: Progress in sight

Agencies | New York     

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

Saudi Arabia and Israel voiced optimism Wednesday that they were moving closer to a historic normalisation of ties.

US President Joe Biden is hoping to transform the Middle East - and score an election-year diplomatic victory - by securing recognition of the Jewish state by Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites.

Meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Biden quipped that he had “Irish optimism” on securing a deal with Saudi Arabia.

“If you and I, 10 years ago, were talking about normalisation with Saudi Arabia, I think we’d look at each other like, ‘Who’s been drinking what?’” Biden - himself a teetotaler - said of Israel and the strictly dry kingdom. Netanyahu said he believed a deal was “within our reach” and credited him.

“I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said. Biden has publicly criticised Netanyahu for overhauling Israel’s judiciary, a step is seen by domestic critics as undermining democracy, and alluded to the concerns again as he received him in New York rather than at the White House.

Closer ‘every day’ In an interview with Fox News, MBS said talks were moving forward with Israel, denying a media report that the process was suspended.

“Every day we get closer,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said. But he noted the kingdom was seeking more progress on ensuring the rights of the Palestinians, as Netanyahu’s hard-right government continues to pursue controversial settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” he said. “We need to ease the lives of the Palestinians.” He also warned that Saudi Arabia was closely watching Iran. Asked how the kingdom would react if Iran developed a nuclear weapon, MBS said, “If they get one, we have to get one.”

Saudi Arabia has also been seeking security guarantees, including reportedly a treaty, with the United States in return for normalising with Israel, the region’s only nuclear weapons state - even if an undeclared one.

Iran relations Iran denies seeking a nuclear weapon and has repaired relations with Saudi Arabia in recent months through talks led by China and through the easing of conflict in Yemen.

Israel normalised relations decades ago with neighbouring Egypt and Jordan and in 2020 added three more Arab states - the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco - in what then US president Donald Trump considered a towering foreign policy achievement.

The Abraham Accords also included sweeteners from Trump, including a promise to sell top-of-the-line F-35 jets to the UAE. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, said normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be a “transformative event.” “To bring these two countries together, in particular, would have a powerful effect in stabilizing the region, in integrating the region, in bringing people together, not having them at each other’s throats,” Blinken said. But he acknowledged it remained “hard to get there.”