‘Peace and good neighborliness’: Israel congratulates Saudis on their National Day

In new sign of warming ties, Foreign Ministry issues Arabic-language greeting to Riyadh on day that celebrates establishment of modern Saudi kingdom

Israel's Foreign Ministry offers a message of congratulations to Saudi Arabia for its National Day, September 23, 2023 (X screenshot)
Israel's Foreign Ministry offers a message of congratulations to Saudi Arabia for its National Day, September 23, 2023 (X screenshot)

As talk of potential normalization of relations continues to gather speed, Israel on Saturday made another gesture toward Riyadh, feting the kingdom’s National Day,

“We extend our sincere congratulations and blessings to the king, government and people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the 93rd National Day,” the Foreign Ministry wrote on its Arabic account on X, formerly Twitter.

“May God bring you goodness and blessings in the light of security, safety and prosperity, with our wishes that an atmosphere of peace, cooperation and good neighborliness will prevail.”

The Saudi National Day celebrates the establishment of the modern Saudi kingdom in 1932.

That message came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the United Nations General Assembly that Israel was “at the cusp” of a historic peace agreement with the Saudis, a deal he said would transform the Middle East.

“Such a peace will go a long way to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Netanyahu, addressing the gathering. “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.”

“All these are tremendous blessings.”

He later told Fox News that he believed the window for a potential normalization deal was open for the next few months, but noted that there were “major issues” with a proposal that Riyadh be permitted to enrich uranium.

“I think that we have a window of opportunity, it’s the next few months. If we don’t achieve it in the next few months, we might delay it by quite a few years,” he said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Fox News on Wednesday 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 and declaring that Saudi Arabia will have to obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran does.

When asked about bin Salman, Netanyahu said he was “delighted to hear what he had to say” about potential normalization and described the Saudi leader as “quite a visionary.”

The premier then repeated the Saudi crown prince’s comment: “I think we’re getting closer to peace every day that passes.”

In his Friday interview with Fox News, Netanyahu sounded an optimistic note on the prospects of a potential agreement between Riyadh and Jerusalem.

“I think that when you have three leaders and three countries that avidly want a result — the United States under President Biden, Saudi Arabia under the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israel under my premiership, I think that really raises the possibility we’ll succeed,” he said.

In exchange for normalizing ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia is asking the US for a major mutual defense pact, significant arms deals, and cooperation in establishing a civilian nuclear program on Saudi soil, as well as Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.

In an interview with CNN, Netanyahu was asked about Saudi Arabia potentially being permitted to enrich uranium.

“I think there are major issues there,” he said.

“We would not do anything that would in any way jeopardize Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said, adding that Jerusalem and Washington stand shoulder-to-shoulder on that matter.

There is some opposition in Washington to allowing Riyadh to enrich uranium — as well as in Israel from opposition lawmakers as well as some experts.

According to a Thursday Wall Street Journal report, Netanyahu has told top nuclear and security experts in Israel to cooperate with US negotiators on a proposal for a “US-run uranium enrichment operation.”

“I will not jeopardize Israel’s interests and national security, but I will also not jeopardize success by speaking about it publicly,” Netanyahu told CNN.

Speaking to Fox News, Netanyahu responded to bin Salman’s comments to the outlet earlier in the week that if Iran were to get a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would “have to get one” also.

The premier said that Iran should not be permitted to have a nuclear weapon, and then “we won’t be in this conundrum.”

When asked about potential concessions to the Palestinians as part of the Saudi agreement, Netanyahu told CNN that his far-right coalition partners are “eminently sensible” when it comes to decisions, although they “talk a talk.”

“When everyone sees the full package, what we bring to the State of Israel, I think there’s a very good chance everyone will go along with it,” he said. “My coalition partners joined me, I didn’t join them.”

Netanyahu was asked if he would be willing to blow up his coalition if necessary to get the agreement.

“I don’t think it’ll require that,” he said.

When asked if his coalition partners would agree to the potential concessions, Netanyahu said, “well, it’s whether I go along with it,” as well as his partners from the Likud party.

Twelve members of Netanyahu’s Likud party published an open letter earlier this week, warning the premier against making concessions to the Palestinians as part of an agreement with Riyadh.

Last month, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also said there would be no concessions, and on Friday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said his party would bolt the coalition if concessions were made.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attend a vote on the ‘reasonableness’ bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu told CNN that the Palestinians should be “part of the process which doesn’t mean they have a veto.”

“I think that making peace with Saudi Arabia, and basically ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, will also help us end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said.

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