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All eyes on Saudi Arabia following Netanyahu’s UN speech

The Saudi foreign minister made no direct mention of Israel or normalization in his UNGA speech; the American Jewish reaction to Netanyahu's address was also scant.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (second from left) at a meeting with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris, June 16, 2023. Source: Twitter.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (second from left) at a meeting with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris, June 16, 2023. Source: Twitter.

After an Israeli prime minister delivers a U.N. General Assembly speech, the most telling, consequential reactions generally come from a few places: Ramallah, Tehran, Washington, the American Jewish community.

This time around, it is Riyadh’s response that matters most.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, didn’t mention Israel directly during his 16-minute address in New York on Saturday. Nor did he discuss efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, about which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said earlier in the week, “Every day, we get closer.”

One day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made normalization efforts with Saudi Arabia a central focus of his General Assembly address, Bin Farhan said “security in the Middle East region requires the acceleration of … a just, comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue. The solution must be based on resolutions in the international arena and must bring about a peace that allows [the] Palestinian people to have an independent state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Bin Salman made no such demand in his interview earlier in the week with Fox News, saying, “We hope that will reach a place that will ease the life of the Palestinians and get Israel as a player in the Middle East,” when asked about the Palestinian component of ongoing U.S.-brokered normalization negotiations.

Bin Farhan said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia “rejects and condemns all the unilateral steps that constitute a flagrant violation of international law and which contribute to the collapse of regional and international peace efforts and are hindering the path of diplomatic solutions.”

While he did not cite any actor or action specifically, such accusations from the Arab world are generally directed toward Israel’s building of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

There was also little reaction from the American Jewish community to Netanyahu’s speech. Following his time at the United Nations, Netanyahu held an open question-and-answer session with around 25 organizations tied to American Jewry that spanned a number of topics, including, most tensely, the subject of Israel’s own internal strife. The speech itself drew scant attention in the aftermath.

Laith Arafeh, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Germany, ripped Netanyahu for displaying a Middle East map that did not include labels for the Palestinian-controlled territories, intimating that Israel’s position is that they are part of Israel proper. 

“No greater insult to every foundational principle of the United Nations than seeing Netanyahu display before the UNGA a ‘map of Israel’ that straddles the entire land from the river to the sea, negating Palestine and its people, then attempting to spin the audience with rhetoric about ‘peace’ in the region, all the while entrenching the longest ongoing belligerent occupation in today’s world,” tweeted Arafeh.

P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas’ UNGA speech on Thursday claimed the Temple Mount and Western Wall “as an exclusive place of worship for Muslims alone,” charged Israel with the “deliberate spread of weapons, drugs and criminal killings taking place in Arab cities inside Israel,” and bizarrely called for the United Nations itself to criminalize denial of the “Nakba,” meaning catastrophe, the term used by Palestinians to describe the outcome of the Arab war of aggression against the nascent Jewish state in 1948. 

Iran cited Netanyahu’s faux pas in his Friday speech, in which he mistakenly stated that Tehran must face a “credible nuclear threat” as it advances its own nuclear program to dangerous levels. Netanyahu quickly clarified after his speech that, as most had suspected, he meant to say “credible military threat.”   

The Islamic Republic’s diplomatic delegation replied that “the baseless allegations made by Israeli officials no longer fool anyone. Iranophobic campaigns and widespread systematic dissemination of disinformation and unfounded allegations against Iran have always been one of the main elements of statements—or, better to say, comedy shows—made by the Israeli authorities in this august body.”

Netanyahu’s week in New York was considered largely successful, including a long-awaited invite to the White House from U.S. President Joe Biden and an apparently tension-deflating meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, along with a first-ever sitdown with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, signaling a clearer thaw following a long, deep diplomatic freeze between Jerusalem and Ankara.

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