US President Joe Biden’s administration has informed Jerusalem that Secretary of State Antony Blinken may travel to the Middle East next month, as Washington maintains its diplomatic efforts to broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two Israeli officials told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
Blinken’s visit would include stops in Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia, but the trip has not yet been finalized, the two officials said. The State Department declined to comment.
Blinken’s State Department also issued a statement Thursday marking the the third anniversary of the signing of the historic Abraham Accords, calling it “transformational” for the US allies involved.
“On this anniversary we recommit ourselves to the goal of expanding and deepening opportunities for integration represented by the Accords. The United States remains steadfast in its support for a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East,” the statement said. Subsequent partnerships such as the Negev Forum and I2U2 partnership of India, Israel, the UAE and the US strengthen shared capabilities and foster the collaboration necessary to meet today’s pressing challenges and opportunities.”
The secretary of state was last in Israel and the West Bank in January, and he used that trip to become one of the first senior US officials to express concern over the judicial overhaul unveiled a short while earlier by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Blinken was in Riyadh more recently, using that trip in June to discuss a potential normalization agreement with Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made a follow-up trip in July, and the White House’s Middle East czar Brett Mcgurk led a delegation to Riyadh last week.
While talks have intensified, Biden officials have sought to taper expectations, with Sullivan saying last week that there’s still a lot of work to do before a deal can be signed.
Blinken held phone calls with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas within hours of one another last week, discussing the potential normalization deal in both conversations.
The secretary said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has conveyed to the United States that advancing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a critical component of a potential normalization deal that Washington is brokering between Riyadh and Jerusalem.
Saudi leaders also assured a delegation visiting from Ramallah last week that Riyadh “will not abandon” the Palestinian cause as it engages in negotiations with the United States about a potential normalization agreement with Israel, a US official and an Arab official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
The message was passed along in multiple meetings between the Palestinian Authority delegation and senior Saudi officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, the officials said.
In exchange for normalizing ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia is asking for a major defense pact with the US, major arms deals and US cooperation in establishing a civilian nuclear program on Saudi soil. Washington, in turn, is looking for Riyadh to pair down its economic and military dealings with China and Russia.
In order to shore up support for the deal among congressional Democrats and the pro-Palestinian public in Saudi Arabia and the broader Muslim world, Israel will likely be asked to make significant concessions to the Palestinians that would advance a two-state solution — a pill that will be difficult for Netanyahu’s hardline government to swallow.