‘Basic framework’ in place for Israel-Saudi normalization, US says

National Security Council says two sides moving toward historic deal, but ‘complex’ arrangement will require ‘compromise’ by all sides

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, September 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, September 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Israel and Saudi Arabia are moving toward the outline of a historic US-brokered deal to normalize relations, the White House said on Friday.

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.

“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,” Kirby said.

The United States has urged its Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize diplomatic relations, after Israel normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020. Israel previously forged ties with Egypt and Jordan.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “at the cusp” of a transformative peace agreement with Saudi Arabia. “Such a peace will go a long way to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Netanyahu. “It will encourage other Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel. It will enhance the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. It will encourage a broader reconciliation between Judaism and Islam, between Jerusalem and Mecca, between the descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses a red marker on a map of ‘The New Middle East’ as he addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2023. (AP/Richard Drew)

The Palestinians remain a sticking point in the negotiations. The Biden administration has pushed Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians as part of a potential deal, but Netanyahu is constrained by his far-right coalition partners, who oppose steps toward Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinian Authority has presented a list of potential steps it would like to see taken in the context of the normalization talks to Washington and Riyadh.

The Saudis have demanded a number of concessions to the Palestinians, while putting aside their earlier demands spelled out in their 2002 Arab Peace Initiative for the creation of a Palestinian state, officials say.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told Fox News earlier this month that “every day we get closer” to his country normalizing ties with Israel, while clarifying that the Palestinian issue is still a “very important” component of the process.

Saudi Arabia has also been seeking security guarantees, including reportedly a defense treaty, with the United States in return for normalizing with Israel.

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