US Nearing Saudi-Israel Deal, Says Blinken


U.S. and Saudi officials might be “weeks away” from finalizing the core terms of a deal to normalize diplomatic relations between the Gulf Arab monarchy and Israel, according to America’s top diplomat.

“This would be a game changer,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told House Appropriations Committee lawmakers on Wednesday. “Those agreements, in principle, are very close to being able to be concluded. Now, of course, we will come to Congress with them when they’re ready to be reviewed. But, we could be really weeks away from being able to conclude them.”

That forecast raises the prospect of a landmark agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, viewed as the culmination of a diplomatic reset between the Jewish state and the Arab world. It would also be a setback for Iran’s regime, which celebrated the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, and the war that followed, as driving a wedge between the negotiators, an expectation that could be vindicated by Israel’s political leaders, Blinken hinted.

“In order for normalization to proceed, Saudi Arabia’s made very clear that, even with the agreements between us completed, they have to have two things: They have to have calm in Gaza, and they have to have a credible pathway to a Palestinian state,” Blinken said. “Whether a government in Israel in this moment is able to engage on that basis, I don’t know.”

The war in Gaza put an international spotlight on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a decade and more of diplomatic stagnation in which two-state solution proposals offered by Israeli leaders to the Palestinian Authority were rejected.

Yet the outrage in Israel over the terrorist attack and the plight of the hostages still held by Hamas have unleashed a torrent of political cross-currents, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure from a hard-right wing of his coalition government to occupy the Gaza Strip and the families of the hostages demanding that he make additional concessions to secure the release of their loved ones.

“Look, the two-state solution that people talk about is basically — would be the greatest reward for the terrorist that you can imagine,” Netanyahu told CNBC in a recent interview. “One, it would be a tremendous reward, historic precedent of giving those people who committed the worst massacre against the Jewish people since the Holocaust on a single day, giving them a prize. And secondly, it would be a state that would be immediately taken over by Hamas and Iran.”

On the other hand, the mounting civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip have spurred a trio of European Union member states to announce their decision to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

“Recognizing the state of Palestine sends a message that there’s a viable alternative to the nihilism of Hamas. Hamas has nothing to offer but pain and suffering to Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris, who unveiled the diplomatic gesture in coordination with Norway and Spain, said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store expressed hope that “the process towards a two-state solution finally can begin again.” Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a violent clash with Fatah, the Palestinian nationalist party predominant in the Palestinian Authority. And Hamas does not want a two-state solution.

“The thing with Hamas is that they have always been a faction of the Muslim Brotherhood. They set themselves Islamist goals: to annihilate the State of Israel, to liberate sacred Muslim lands,” retired Israeli prison service intelligence chief Yuval Bitton told Haaretz last month. “Fatah talked about the 1967 borders, about the occupation, about the Palestinian people. To me, the Hamas inmates would say, ‘There’s neither 1967 nor 1948. There are no borders and there is nothing to talk about. You are on Waqf land, Muslim sacred ground, and you have no place here.’”

Netanyahu avoided those distinctions on Wednesday. “The intention of several European countries to recognize a Palestinian state is a reward for terrorism,” the prime minister said. “This would be a terrorist state. It will try to repeat the massacre of Oct. 7 again and again; we will not consent to this. Rewarding terrorism will not bring peace, and neither will it stop us from defeating Hamas.”

In his appearances on Capitol Hill, Blinken underscored that Saudi Arabia is demanding “a credible pathway to a Palestinian state” rather than an immediate deal to establish a state as part of the normalization process.

“Until now, this has been a hypothetical or a theoretical question for Israel,” Blinken said Wednesday. “Assuming we complete the agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia, that hypothetical or theoretical question becomes a real question that they will have to answer one way or another.”

And Netanyahu’s team, for their part, signaled that they have plenty of time to hammer out a deal.

“I believe very strongly that we’re going to get a Saudi-Israel normalization that will happen. I definitely think, within the next year, regardless of what you decide to do in November in terms of your elections, because I think the Saudis want to normalize with us,” Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday.

“We’re in the last stage of that heavy fighting, intense fighting in Rafah. I think when that’s finished, I think we’re going to be in a different situation,” he added. “And the other thing is, how can we work together to find a formula that will work regarding the Palestinians? And I think it is possible to stitch that together.”

Joel Gehrke
Joel Gehrke
Joel Gehrke is a foreign affairs reporter, with an emphasis on U.S. competition with China and Russia, Middle East policy following the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, and the crisis in Venezuela. Previously, he covered domestic politics for National Review Online.

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