'If there's political will, there will be a political way'

PM indicates he would make concessions to Palestinians to achieve Saudi deal

Netanyahu hints that ‘political questions’ won’t block normalization with Riyadh, following foreign minister’s similar comments on Sunday

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

(L) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP); (C) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90); (L) US President Joe Biden on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC (Michael A. McCoy / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
(L) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP); (C) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90); (L) US President Joe Biden on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC (Michael A. McCoy / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

In an interview released Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that he was open to gestures to Palestinians if a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia depended on it, and hinted that he would not let coalition members block an agreement.

“Do I think it’s feasible to have that, and do I think that political questions will block it? I doubt it,” Netanyahu told Bloomberg News. “If there’s political will, there will be a political way to achieve normalization and a formal peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“I think there’s enough room to discuss possibilities,” he added.

Netanyahu’s comments were in line with what Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the day before.

“The Palestinian issue will not be an obstacle to peace,” Cohen said in an interview with the London-based Arabic-language site Elaph, seen as a conduit for public messaging between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

“We also proved this in the Abraham Accords. We all have an interest in improving life in the areas of the Palestinian Authority.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (front) walks during a joint press conference with the Saudi foreign minister (not pictured) after a ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State in Riyadh on June 8, 2023. (Ahmed Yosri/Pool/AFP)

At the same time, Netanyahu implied that the Saudis aren’t especially concerned about what the Palestinians get out of a potential deal: “I think the Palestinian thing is brought in all the time, and it’s sort of a check box. You have to check it to say that you’re doing it.”

He said that conversations about the Palestinians occur in closed meetings “a lot less than you think.”

Washington has sought to advance an Israel-Saudi normalization deal because of its perceived benefits to US national security. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and other pro-Western Gulf states have balanced a shift in US attention toward the Asia-Pacific region and to Russia by expanding ties with Iran and with China.

Such a deal would see Riyadh offer an unprecedentedly large aid package to Palestinian institutions in the West Bank, significantly roll back its growing relationship with China, and help bring an end to the civil war in Yemen.

File: Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, December 28, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Saudis are reportedly asking for a mutual defense agreement with America, advanced defense technology and a civilian nuclear program.

It is unclear where exactly talks stand, and what Israel’s involvement in them is. Netanyahu has long sought an elusive normalization deal with the Saudis, repeatedly describing it as one of the top priorities of his new government and one he believes could lead to an end to both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to reports, Riyadh would demand from Israel significant concessions toward the Palestinians, a process that seems challenging under the current right-wing and hard-right government.

Netanyahu made his comments during the second half of his interview with the Bloomberg financial news outlet. The first part was released on Sunday, in which Netanyahu said he would shelve the rest of the judicial overhaul plan after changing the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee.

Supporters of the government’s judicial reform efforts gather in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

He also clarified that he supports giving Palestinians “all the powers to govern themselves, [but] none of the powers to threaten Israel.”

Otherwise, he cautioned, “it won’t be their own state, it will be an Iranian-controlled state.”

Netanyahu waxed optimistic about the chances of some type of pact with Riyadh.  He contended that there is a natural “economic corridor of energy, transport, and communications” running from Asia through the Arabian Peninsula and Israel to Europe.

“We’re going to realize that,” he pledged, saying it would be “a pivot of history.”

He added: “We’re going to realize that whether we have formal peace or not.”

Most Popular
read more: