VILNIUS, Lithuania — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday says he sees a path to peace with Palestinians through the “normalization” of relations with Arab states which, like Israel, are also facing an emboldened Iran.
“Many Arab countries now see Israel not as their enemy but as their indispensable ally in pushing back Iranian aggression,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Lithuania’s LRT public broadcaster which aired on Monday.
“This has created normalisation which can lead to peace. I believe that if we have peace with the broader Arab world, it will help us get to peace with the Palestinians,” he added in the interview taped during his visit to the Baltic state — the first-ever by an Israeli premier — that ended on Sunday.
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have opposed the Iran nuclear deal and pushed for tougher action against Iran’s spreading influence in the Middle East.
Israel has peace treaties with just two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, while others insist on an agreement with the Palestinians as a prerequisite that would pave the way to formal relations.
Earlier this year Saudi Arabian King Salman reaffirmed “steadfast” support for the Palestinian cause after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signaled a shift in the country’s approach.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview published recently, recognized Israel’s right to exist and extolled the prospect of future diplomatic relations between his kingdom and the Jewish state.
In an extensive interview with The Atlantic, Prince Mohammed laid out his vision for the future of the Middle East, including the possibility of cooperation with Israel.
Asked whether he believes “the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland,” he replied: “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”
However, in keeping with the terms of his kingdom’s regional peace proposal, the Saudi crown prince added that an agreement with the Palestinians was a prerequisite to formal relations. “But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations,” he said.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations and the kingdom does not recognize the Jewish state. Israel has hinted at clandestine ties with Saudi Arabia in recent years, stressing the two countries share an interest in countering Iran. The rumors of covert relations have been denied by Saudi officials. Still, a Saudi general visited Jerusalem in 2016 and met with Israeli lawmakers, and Saudi officials have met with Israeli officials on several occasions in public; Saudi Arabia also last recently allowed Air India to fly to and from Tel Aviv via its airspace.