Senior US official: Netanyahu understands he’ll ‘have to do some very hard things’ for Saudi deal

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US President Joe Biden in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US President Joe Biden in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A senior Biden administration official says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that he’ll “have to do some very hard things” in order to get a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudia across the finish line.

Briefing reporters on condition of anonymity after US President Joe Biden’s meeting with Netanyahu, the administration official is asked whether the Israeli premier acknowledged that such an agreement cannot neglect the Palestinians.

“There’s a common understanding among all the leaders about this very historic step between Israel and Saudi Arabia, that all the leaders involved in this have to do some very hard things, and that includes the Prime Minister of Israel, and that includes some component related to the fundamental issue between Israelis and Palestinians,” the senior administration official says while declining to elaborate on what that component might look like.

“There is a basic meeting of the minds on not only the importance of that issue but some of the contours of what would be required,” the US official adds.
Netanyahu has in the past sought to publicly downplay the centrality of a Palestinian component to the agreement, as he has long chafed at making concessions to the Palestinians and is now limited by a hardline coalition that overwhelmingly opposes a two-state solution.

But the Biden administration has long maintained that moves to significantly advance a two-state solution are essential for the deal to succeed since they will be needed to placate criticism of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim and Arab world and in order to convince enough progressive Democrats in the Senate to forgo their reservations about Riyadh’s human rights record in order to back the agreement.

Asked whether the US and Israel see eye-to-eye on the Saudi demand for US assistance in the establishment of a civilian nuclear program, the administration official suffices by saying, “Whatever is done regarding civil nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia or anybody else, will meet stringent us non-proliferation standards.”

As for the Saudi demand for a mutual defense pact with the US, the official says, “there is a security component to the deal and a number of components “that are fundamentally in the interests of the US. That’s one reason we are obviously pursuing [this but also because of the potential global dimensions.”

“Normalization is a very complicated issue… Nobody has ever said this is right around the corner… We have been making some progress, but… there’s some ways to travel on this before we get there.” the administration official says.

The official says Biden and Netanyahu had a “constructive” discussion on the issue “at some depth” during their meeting on the UN sidelines.

Turning to tensions in the West Bank, the administration official reiterates that the US is “concerned about settler violence, concerned about terrorist violence,” seemingly differentiating between the two. The official says Biden and Netanyahu discussed “very constructive ideas about the way forward” on that front.

On the Israeli government’s effort to overhaul the judiciary, the senior administration official says that “there’s an understanding [between the two leaders] that there needs to be a way forward there that involves compromise.”

The official summarizes the meeting as a “very constructive, very candid — ultimately we hope productive — exchange that really only President Joe Biden could have with Bibi Netanyahu.”

Most Popular