US President Joe Biden said Hamas attacked Israel in part to stymie its efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, his most illuminating comments yet on the impetus for the crisis in the Middle East.
(Bloomberg) — US President Joe Biden said Hamas attacked Israel in part to stymie its efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, his most illuminating comments yet on the impetus for the crisis in the Middle East.
“One of the reasons why they acted like they did, why Hamas moved on Israel, is because they knew I was about to sit down with the Saudis,” Biden said on Friday at a campaign fundraiser in Washington. “Because the Saudis wanted to recognize Israel and that would in fact unite the Middle East.”
Under Biden, the US and Saudis were working on a framework for the kingdom to recognize Israel in exchange for US security guarantees. Publicly, administration officials sought to play down talk of a breakthrough as the talks advanced, but Biden was keen on the initiative and in July sent National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to the kingdom.
Israel has signed diplomatic deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan since 2020, but normalization with Saudi Arabia, the biggest economy in the Middle East, would be a coup for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his country.
Those efforts now are in limbo after the deadly attack by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist state by the US and European Union, on Oct. 7. The attack killed more than 1,400 people and saw over 200 taken hostage. Israel has responded with airstrikes in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and is threatening a ground war to eradicate the group.
The Saudis have paused their efforts to normalize ties with Israel, according to people familiar with the matter. The people familiar, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described it however as only a pause — not an end to the diplomacy.
Saudis Put Israel Normalization on Hold in Blow to US Goals (1)
Biden’s remarks come days after the president made a dramatic war-time visit to Israel for meetings with Netanyahu. The two embraced on the airport tarmac after Biden landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
The president at the fundraiser joked about the at-times tense relations between the two leaders, telling a story about their first meeting, when Biden was still a senator.
Biden said he wrote on a photo of the two, “Bibi, I love you but I don’t agree with a damn thing you say.”
Biden on Friday submitted a $106 billion emergency spending measure to Congress to boost Israel and Ukraine’s military, which includes $61.4 billion for a year’s worth of assistance to Ukraine and $14.3 billion to help arm Israel.
The package will likely face pushback in Congress, where ultraconservatives have resisted further support for Ukraine. And without a Speaker, the House lacks the power to grant the funding request.
Biden Requests $106 Billion for Israel, Ukraine, Border
Biden in a rare Oval Office address Thursday night pleaded with lawmakers not to let the speakership fight impede efforts to protect democracy.
“We can’t let petty partisan angry politics get in the way of our responsibility as a great nation,” he said.
In his Friday remarks, Biden again addressed the disarray in the House, referencing Republican Representative Jim Jordan’s failed attempt to secure the role after a third vote. The race has been marred by death threats and intimidation.
“We have to understand that violence in American politics is never, never, never, never acceptable,” Biden said.
The Friday fundraiser was held at the home of prominent donor Claire Lucas, a deputy national finance chair at the Democratic National Committee, and entrepreneur Judy Dlugacz. It raised $1.6 million, according to Biden’s campaign.
(Updates with additional details from seventh paragraph)
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