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Herzog: Normalization with Saudi Arabia a ‘game-changer’

Achieving a peace agreement with the kingdom would constitute a "victory over the empire of evil," said the Israeli president.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday said that normalization with Saudi Arabia is a real possibility, adding that such an eventuality would be a “game-changer” for the region.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, Herzog said, “Two days ago, I met with the U.S. National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, and heard from him what was officially announced yesterday—that there is an option for normalization with Saudi Arabia. This is a move that could bring about tremendous change, a historic ‘game-changer’ that constitutes a victory over the empire of evil.”

This same “empire of evil sought on Oct. 7 to destroy the chance for normalization,” he said. “Our struggle, in the end, is not only a fight against Hamas. It is a wider, strategic, global, and historic battle, and we must do everything to integrate into the grand vision of normalization,” he added.

Before visiting Israel, Sullivan was in Saudi Arabia, where he discussed a bilateral strategic agreement between Washington and Riyadh with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the draft agreement is nearly finalized, and the two sides are working on “the Palestinian issue” to “find a credible path” forward.

According to the White House, Sullivan briefed Netanyahu on the Saudi meetings “and the potential that may now be available for Israel, as well as the Palestinian people.”

Riyadh has reportedly decided to normalize relations with the Jewish state and is debating the timing of the announcement. The Saudis are discussing whether to make the move in the coming weeks or after the U.S. presidential election this November.

While the Biden administration has been pushing to connect a pathway to Palestinian statehood as part of the Saudis joining the Abraham Accords, it was reported in April that the kingdom may only demand guarantees on progress towards achieving that goal in return for establishing diplomatic ties with Jerusalem.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month emphasized the importance of a Palestinian state despite former Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen saying last August that it was not a major obstacle for bin Salman.

In February, however, the Saudi Foreign Ministry insisted that the kingdom would not not establish diplomatic relations with Israel until there is a Palestinian state, an end to the war against Hamas and a complete military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

“The Kingdom has communicated its firm position to the U.S. administration that there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip,” the statement read.

The Israeli government is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state given Ramallah’s support for terrorism. Recent polling shows a majority of Israelis are also against Palestinian statehood.

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