US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed to eventually “build on” the US-brokered negotiations that had been underway to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia before the outbreak of the Gaza war, the White House said after the two leaders spoke on Tuesday.
Biden and bin Salman “affirmed the importance of working toward a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians as soon as the crisis subsides, building on the work that was already underway between Saudi Arabia and the United States over recent months,” said a readout from the White House.
Biden administration officials have acknowledged that the normalization effort is no longer the most immediate priority for the US and Israel, as they work to respond to the October 7 Hamas onslaught. However, the White House insists that it is still committed to the goal and has suggested that one of the reasons for the Hamas massacre was to try and thwart the effort.
Biden, but more notably bin Salman as well, “welcomed ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and called for their immediate release,” according to the readout.
The two leaders also welcomed the recent delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza while recognizing the need for additional assistance.
Biden hailed “the Gulf Cooperation Council’s contribution of $100 million to support these humanitarian efforts, and discussed the disbursement of $100 million from the United States to support the response.”
“The two leaders agreed on pursuing broader diplomatic efforts to maintain stability across the region and prevent the conflict from expanding,” the White House said, adding that Biden had affirmed US support for the defense of its allies in the region from terror attacks.
According to a statement about the phone call later released by the Saudis, the Saudi crown prince called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, rejecting the targeting of civilians.
He also urged resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Biden thanked him for his efforts to prevent regional escalation, the readout said.
International news agencies reported earlier this month that Riyadh had decided to put normalization with Israel “on ice” amid the Israel-Hamas war.
Saudi Arabia in the weeks before the attacks had spoken of progress in US-led diplomacy to normalize relations with Israel — which would be a landmark step for the conservative kingdom that is guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites.
War erupted after Hamas’s rampage, which saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing at least 224 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, in what Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
Israel has responded with a large-scale aerial bombing campaign and says it is preparing an imminent ground offensive aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip.
According to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry, over 5,700 have been killed in the Israeli bombardment. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, killed in Israel and Gaza, as well as the victims of what Jerusalem says are hundreds of misfired Palestinian rockets launched since October 7. Israel says it killed 1,500 Hamas terrorists inside Israel following the mass infiltration.