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Netanyahu rejected Palestinian state as pathway to Saudi normalization

The Israeli prime minister reportedly dismissed the proposal, brought to him by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu meets in Tel Aviv with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Jan. 9, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu meets in Tel Aviv with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Jan. 9, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a Saudi offer to normalize relations in exchange for a Palestinian state, NBC News reported on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered the proposal to Netanyahu during his visit to the Jewish state last week, senior Biden administration officials said. However, the Israeli leader said he was not prepared for a deal that paves the way for Palestinian statehood.

Blinken had visited several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, before visiting Israel, and officials said that he secured a commitment from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and four other Arab leaders to help rebuild Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war. The Arab leaders also agreed to support “a new, reformed Palestinian government to secure Gaza.” MBS also agreed to normalize relations with Israel as part of the Gaza reconstruction agreement, but only if a path to Palestinian statehood is provided.

Biden administration officials have been pushing Palestinian statehood as part of a key requirement for regional peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors after the war in Gaza ends, with Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hammering this point this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

It appears to mark a shift in the administration’s position on the importance of a Palestinian state to a diplomatic deal between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

Prior to Hamas’s bloody Oct. 7, 2023 assault on southern Israel, the Biden administration was working on brokering a deal for Riyadh to join the Abraham Accords.

The Trump administration-brokered accords normalized relations between Israel and four Arab nations without the requirement of a Palestinian state: The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

A week and a day before the Oct. 7 massacre, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby announced that Jerusalem and Riyadh had “hammered out” the contours of a possible American-mediated normalization agreement.

“All sides have hammered out, I think, a basic framework for what, you know, what we might be able to drive at,” he said.

Reuters reported at the time that Saudi Arabia was not conditioning a peace deal with Israel on the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, the Biden administration appears to now be pushing for a Palestinian state as part of any deal, and the Saudis are discussing this as well.

On Tuesday at Davos, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan connected Israeli normalization with a Palestinian state.

“We agree that regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that could only happen through peace for the Palestinians through a Palestinian state,” he said.

According to the NBC News report, the Biden administration is attempting to work around Netanyahu to fulfill its vision of a Palestinian state, meeting with Israeli political opposition and civil society leaders in anticipation of a post-Netanyahu government.

However, a source familiar with the discussions between Netanyahu and Blinken suggested that Israel might go along with the proposal.

“I’d be careful about assuming that Israel will scuttle the deal. Assuming Hamas is no longer in Gaza after the war and the Saudis and other moderate Arabs would invest in Gaza and normalize relations with Israel, it would be a game changer,” the source said.

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