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'There's a lot more fluidity' in the region now

Kushner: Saudi normalization ‘inevitable’; TV: Another deal may come within days

As Israel and Morocco announce agreement to normalize ties, diplomatic source tells Channel 12 talks underway with more Muslim countries in Africa and Asia

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, looks on during a meeting between US President Donald Trump, left, and leaders at the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, May 21, 2017. (AP/Evan Vucci)
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, looks on during a meeting between US President Donald Trump, left, and leaders at the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, May 21, 2017. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Israeli-Saudi normalization is an “inevitability,” senior White House adviser Jared Kushner declared Thursday against the backdrop of Morocco’s decision to forge full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state at the Trump administration’s behest.

“Israel and Saudi Arabia coming together and having full normalization at this point is an inevitability, but the timeframe… is something that has to be worked out,” Kushner told reporters in a briefing following Trump’s announcement of the fourth Arab-Israel agreement in four months.

Kushner added that an Israeli-Saudi agreement would require “strong US leadership in the region.”

“If you look at where we’ve come in last six months, the region has essentially gone from a solid to a liquid and it feels like there’s a lot more fluidity,” he said.

Also following the Moroccan announcement, a senior Israeli official told Kan news that an additional unnamed country could announce a normalization deal with Israel within days.

Meanwhile, an Israeli diplomatic source told Channel 12 that Jerusalem is in normalization talks with Muslim states in both Africa and Asia.

Neither report could be independently verified.

In September, Trump claimed anywhere between five and nine other countries were on the path to peace with Israel. Numerous Israeli officials have also repeatedly said a number of countries are holding clandestine talks on the possible normalization.

A Saudi agreement on normalization is seen as the big prize, given Riyadh’s elevated status in the region. While the countries have taken steps toward stronger ties in the past several months alone (Riyadh approved overflights between Israel and Gulf states using its territory and is believed to have givens its blessing to the accords with the UAE and Bahrain), many analysts speculate that the kingdom is not yet ready for such a dramatic move, particularly while current King Salman is still alive.

Saudi Arabia has insisted that any normalization between it and Israel can only happen alongside a lasting peace deal involving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The kingdom publicly continues to state its unwavering support for the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 Saudi-sponsored deal that offers Israel full ties with all Arab states in return for Palestinian statehood on territory Israel captured in 1967.

But mutual concern over Iran has gradually brought Israel and Gulf nations closer, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held secret talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia last month, fueling speculation a normalization accord could be in the making.

Riyadh, however, denied the meeting had occurred.

At a conference in Bahrain last week, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi former intelligence chief who is said to be close to top leadership, gave voice to the strong support that the Palestinian cause still has in the region, with a fiery presentation.

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saudi speaking at the IISS Manama Dialogue, December 6, 2020 (screen shot IISS)

He described the Jewish state as a belligerent and apartheid-practicing occupier, and said that peace will remain elusive until the creation of a Palestinian state along 1967 lines.

“Israeli governments have arrested thousands of the inhabitants of the lands they are colonizing and incarcerated them in concentration camps under the flimsiest of security accusations — young and old, women and men who are rotting there without recourse or justice,” al-Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia did not immediately comment on the Morocco-Israeli normalization announcement, which was first publicized via a tweet from US President Donald Trump.

As part of the announcement, Trump said that the US would recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region.

As his time in office winds down, Trump said Israel and Morocco would restore diplomatic and other relations, including the immediate opening of liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv and the eventual opening of embassies. US officials said it would also include joint overflight rights for airlines.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI waves to the crowd as he arrives for the opening session of the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat, on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Kushner said the decision on Western Sahara was a “recognition of an inevitability” after there had “quite frankly… been no progress” for decades.

He expressed hope that the move would make the region more stable, calling the Moroccan Kingdom a “tolerant society.”

Asked during the briefing to address alleged human rights abuses in the countries the US has pushed to agree to normalization agreements with Israel, Kushner said” “We recognize that some of these countries share our values more than others do.”

He went on to argue that in forging better relations with countries that have sketchy rights records, the US is in a better position “to get what we want” on other issues while pointing out that the Islamic State “was not too good with human rights” either.

Freedom House labels Morocco as “partly free,” pointing out that while the country holds parliamentary elections, “King Mohammed VI maintains dominance through a combination of substantial formal powers and informal lines of influence in the state and society. Many civil liberties are constrained in practice.”

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