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Israeli foreign minister: Saudi deal ‘closer than ever’

The window for a deal will be open until around March, said Eli Cohen • Likud MK Yuli Edelstein: It's "too early" to talk about an agreement.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attends a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Jan. 25, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen attends a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Jan. 25, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel is closer than it has ever been to a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on Monday.

In an interview with Channel 12, the country’s top diplomat said that the door for a U.S.-brokered deal between Jerusalem and Riyadh would remain open until the U.S. election season kicks into high gear in March.

While he said it was too early to comment on specific concessions Israel might have to make for an agreement, he noted that convincing Saudi Arabia to join the Abraham Accords was not only an Israeli interest, but also an American one.

The Abraham Accords are a series of normalization agreements, with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, achieved under former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2020.

Bringing the Saudis into the accords would help stabilize the region and aid the U.S. economy, said Cohen.

With regard to the Palestinians, Cohen said that while the issue was the Abraham Accords had already proven that “the Palestinian issue is not a barrier to peace.”

However, he continued, raising the quality of life for Palestinians was a shared interest of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Cohen also claimed that the Iranian rapprochement with Saudi Arabia is a “show,” citing the nature of those Saudi demands from the United States that have been made public, all of which relate to defense.

On Sunday, however, Likud lawmaker Yuli Edelstein, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, offered a different take.

In an interview with Army Radio, Edelstein said, “It’s too early to talk about a deal being in the works.”

According to Edelstein, the Palestinian issue was not the main obstacle to a deal, indicating instead that the main points of contention were being worked out between Washington and Riyadh.

“How shall I put this delicately? There are clauses that are far more important or problematic than such-and-such declarations in the Palestinian realm,” he said. The Saudi demands of Washington include “some things we can live with better, and some things we can live with less well.”

The comments from Cohen and Edelstein came after Biden last week said that an Israeli-Saudi agreement was “maybe under way,” while U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was in Jeddah pressing the case for a deal.

On Monday it was reported that two weeks ago the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, secretly traveled to Washington to discuss a deal with Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported on Monday “a rare collaboration” as Israel’s SolarEdge Technologies Inc. entered into a joint venture with Saudi Arabia’s Ajlan & Bros Holding.

The Israeli firm said in a press statement that “The JV is being formed to support the deployment of smart renewable energy solutions in Saudi Arabia, in line with the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative that aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil by the end of this decade.”

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