ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Saudi embassy in US: No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state

Diplomatic mission’s spokesman says Riyadh’s position ‘has been clear and has been consistent for many years,’ noting 2002 peace offer still stands

Fahad Nazer, spokesman for Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington, speaks to Arab News in an interview published June 13, 2023. (Screenshot: YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Fahad Nazer, spokesman for Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington, speaks to Arab News in an interview published June 13, 2023. (Screenshot: YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Saudi embassy in Washington reiterated that the kingdom will not normalize ties with Israel until a Palestinian state is established, amid intensified US efforts to broker a peace agreement between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

“Saudi Arabia’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear and has been consistent for many years,” spokesman Fahad Nazer told Arab News in an interview published Sunday.

Nazer noted the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative first introduced in 2002, which promises Israel full diplomatic ties with 57 Arab and Muslim states once an accord is reached with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously said the proposal has “positive elements” but has refrained from endorsing it.

“That offer really still remains on the table,” he added.

Nazer did not further comment on Israel in the interview, which dealt largely with US-Saudi relations and the recent Chinese-brokered rapprochement between his country and Iran.

“When it comes to Iran specifically, we have said all along and going back several years at this point, that Iran is obviously our neighbor. They have great potential. They have a predominantly young population. They have a great history and culture,” he said, while noting continued points of friction such as Tehran’s nuclear program.

The spokesman’s comments came days after Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan similarly stressed that normalization depends on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. While diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia would bring significant benefits to the region, bin Farhan said, they would be limited without a Palestinian state.

“I think we should continue to focus on finding a pathway toward a two-state solution, on finding a pathway toward giving the Palestinians dignity and justice. I think the US has a similar view that it’s important to continue on those efforts,” he said last week after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Riyadh.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan during a joint news conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 8, 2023. (Ahmed Yosri/Pool Photo via AP)

The response was largely standard for Saudi officials, who have long said publicly that they won’t normalize relations with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, even though they’ve offered more flexibility behind closed doors. However, bin Farhan’s acknowledgment that normalizing ties with Israel would offer “significant benefits” appeared to stand out from previous comments.

Saudi Arabia has been willing to entertain normalization but is seeking several large concessions from the US. In addition to cooperation on a civilian nuclear program, which would likely be a cause of apprehension for both the US and Israel, it also expects security and economic guarantees from the Biden administration, a senior US official and a senior Middle East diplomat told The Times of Israel.

In addition, Saudi Arabia will expect a significant concession to the Palestinians in order to solidify any normalization deal, the officials said.

Netanyahu said last week that normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be “a quantum leap forward” and “would change history,” noting that a potential agreement is one of his top policy goals.

The premier told Sky News that he cannot guarantee a deal will happen as “it’s up to the Saudis” but that he “certainly hope[s] so.”

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