Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed confidence the Jewish state could reach a landmark normalization agreement with longtime foe Saudi Arabia with the backing of US President Joe Biden.
(Bloomberg) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed confidence the Jewish state could reach a landmark normalization agreement with longtime foe Saudi Arabia with the backing of US President Joe Biden.
Such a deal would lead to “reconciliation” between Israel and the Arab world and “advance a genuine peace” with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said during a Wednesday meeting with Biden in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“Under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said.
“If you and and I 10 years ago were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, I think we’d look at each other like, ‘been drinking what?’” Biden quipped about the potential agreement, adding “I think we have a chance.”
Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for decades, but their relationship has been strained since the Israeli leader reclaimed power last December.
Biden had withheld a customary meeting at the White House, or any other in-person meeting, amid disagreements over Netanyahu’s efforts to curb the power of Israel’s judicial branch and the actions of far-right members of the Israeli cabinet.
Biden said he would raise those topics during the meeting with Netanyahu, vowing they would “discuss some of the hard issues.” He also opened the door to a meeting in Washington “by the end of the year.”
“Because even where we have some differences, my commitment to Israel, as you know, is ironclad,” Biden said. “I think without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world that’s secure. I think Israel is essential.”
Despite Biden’s qualms about Netanyahu’s government, the two leaders have much to discuss. The Biden administration is pursuing a sweeping agreement to normalize relations between longtime enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could involve provisions to preserve the possibility of a future Palestinian state.
The ongoing negotiations between the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are complex and would involve Washington offering security guarantees to Riyadh in exchange for the kingdom establishing formal ties with Jerusalem. Israel, in turn, would lay the groundwork for Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu could face hurdles at home selling an agreement to members of his right-wing coalition who oppose concessions to the Palestinians. Biden, likewise, could face skepticism within his own party over a deal with Saudi Arabia, which he vowed during his 2020 campaign to make a geopolitical pariah.
Wednesday’s sitdown may help thaw relations between Biden and Netanyahu after a delay that was interpreted in Israel as a snub. The Israeli government announced in July that Biden had invited Netanyahu to meet in the US, but did not specify a location. Israeli premiers going back decades have traditionally received an invitation to the White House to meet the US president.
Netanyahu is also eager to receive assurances about US intentions regarding Iran, Israel’s biggest geopolitical foe, after the White House brokered a prisoner-swap agreement with Tehran.
(Adds Biden, Netanyahu comments and additional context throughout)
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