GOP senator: Israel must accept two-state solution to normalize ties with Saudis

Lindsey Graham asserts Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, but says Arab countries can’t normalize ties ‘if they’re seen as throwing the Palestinians under the bus’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Member of a bipartisan group of US senators Lindsey Graham looks on during a press conference in Tel Aviv on October 22, 2023. (GIL COHEN MAGEN / AFP)
Member of a bipartisan group of US senators Lindsey Graham looks on during a press conference in Tel Aviv on October 22, 2023. (GIL COHEN MAGEN / AFP)

Arab countries will not agree to normalize ties with Israel unless Jerusalem agrees to a two-state solution, Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sunday.

The comments amounted to a rare recognition by a Republican lawmaker that Palestinian statehood is a condition for the expansion of the Abraham Accords, a series of US-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states negotiated under the administration of former US president Donald Trump. They came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was weeks into a public post-October 7 campaign in which he has vowed to block the strategy.

In an interview on Meet the Press, Graham hailed the effort by Democratic US President Joe Biden’s administration to revive normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

When asked whether he thought it was realistic for the US to still pursue that goal after Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, he answered: “Yeah, I do. But I can tell you, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries cannot normalize with Israel if they’re having been seen as throwing the Palestinians under the bus.”

“I think the Arabs are going to demand some form of two-state solution to recognize Israel,” the senior Republican lawmaker speculated, adding that “normalizing the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel is still the big prize.”

War erupted between Israel and Hamas on October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians — under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

The Arab world has been united in its fierce rejection of Israel’s military response to the October 7 attacks, leading international calls for a ceasefire, which Israel vehemently rejects as long as Hamas — which has vowed to repeat similar massacres again and again, given the chance — is not vanquished.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during a UN Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters on November 29, 2023, in New York City. (Andrea Renault/AFP)

While some Arab officials privately acknowledge their general support for Israel’s goal of removing the Islamist Palestinian terror group from Gaza, they speak out fiercely against the number of civilian casualties in the Strip, which they fear is capable of destabilizing their own countries, where public outrage has been massive.

Before October 7, the United States had been close to brokering a deal that would have seen Saudi Arabia — home to Islam’s holiest sites — recognize Israel for the first time.

Supporters of the deal believe it could have transformed the Middle East, after decades in which Israel had very limited diplomatic, commercial and security ties with its neighbors.

In October, a source familiar with that process told AFP that Riyadh had decided to “pause discussion on possible normalization.”

Saudi Arabia had previously warned Israel against any further ground operations in the Gaza Strip, where the Jewish state continues to press on with its goal of eliminating the ruling terror group.

“If we don’t get this right this time, we’re talking about another generation of just tit-for-tat death,” the senior Republican lawmaker asserted. “Give Israel the time and space to destroy Hamas. That’s non-negotiable, but we need to be thinking about the day after.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

On Saturday evening, Netanyahu related to the question of who should take control of Gaza after the war with Hamas ends, saying he was “proud” of preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state and taking credit for “putting the brakes” on the Oslo peace process of the 1990s.

Speaking at a press conference at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, the premier also reiterated his opposition to the Palestinian Authority ruling Gaza after Hamas is eliminated, adding that “among friends it’s important not to foster illusions,” alluding to Washington’s desire for a “revamped” PA to take control of the coastal enclave.

Jeremy Sharon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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