Israel-Saudi deal can lead to resolving Palestine conflict: Netanyahu

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said a normalisation deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia could be part of a new peace initiative leading to resolution of the conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.

“I think we can end the Arab-Israeli conflict and achieve peace with the Palestinians, we just have to be creative about it,” he told Dubai-based Al Arabiya English in a video interview. 

“I look forward to discussing this with Arab leaders and the Palestinians themselves,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has been one of the biggest backers of the Palestinian cause and has repeatedly stated that it needed to see a Palestinian state before taking up normalisation with Israel.

Although Riyadh has not officially commented on the Abraham Accords, there have been signs of a thaw in relations in recent years.

In an Oct 2020 interview with Al Arabiya, the influential former Saudi Ambassador to the US Bandar bin Sultan said: “The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures. And the Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates have proven to be successful.”

Netanyahu who was prime minister when the accords were signed but left office in 2021, has long argued that Israel must make peace first with the Arab nations and then with the Palestinians. But other Arab has joined the peace accords since then.

That’s why Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani last week told Israeli reporters that no other Arab countries would join unless progress was toward a two-state resolution to the conflict.

However, Netanyahu spoke of the possibility that a Saudi deal could be part of a larger initiative that could lead to peace with both Israel’s Arab neighbors and the Palestinians, even as he refrained from using the word Palestinian statehood.

“We can have a new peace initiative that will form a quantum leap for the resolution of both the Arab-Israel conflict and ultimately the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Netanyahu said, adding, “I am referring to what could be a truly remarkable historic peace with Saudi Arabia.”

“It will change our region in ways that are unimaginable and I think it will facilitate, ultimately a Palestinian-Israeli peace,” Netanyahu said.

“It is up to the leadership of Saudi Arabia if they want to partake in this effort, I certainly hope they would,” he added.

Netanyahu also called for the Biden administration to do more to strengthen its relationship with Riyadh. 

The US-Saudi strategic partnership has frayed since US President Joe Biden entered the White House in 2021 and there has been tension between the United States and the United Arab Emirates, which forged relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords.

“The traditional (US) alliance with Saudi Arabia and other countries, has to be reaffirmed. There should not be periodic swings, or even wild swings in this relationship, because I think that the alliance…is the anchor of stability in our region,” Netanyahu told the Saudi-owned website. “I hope to speak to President Biden about it,” Netanyahu said.

Saudi Arabia has made some gestures towards Israel, announcing in July during a visit by Biden to the kingdom that it would open Saudi airspace to all carriers. Progress on that for Israeli airlines hinges on approval from Oman on use of its airspace to skirt Iran for journeys to Asia.

Separately, Netanyahu, in an interview earlier in the day with NPR, also spoke of the Palestinians, explaining that his new government would offer the Palestinians “peace” and “a better life.”

“I have been a champion of economic betterment, not as a substitute for a political settlement but because I think it just makes life worth living and easier… It does pave the way for peace. The majority of ordinary Palestinians want a good life.”

He clarified that his vision did not include full statehood for the Palestinians. “The only peace that will hold is one that we can defend. And the one that we can defend is one in which the Palestinians have all the powers to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten our life, which means that security, in whatever political arrangements we’ll have realistically will have to remain in Israel’s hands,” Netanyahu said.

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