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Blinken says pathway to Palestinian state is the ‘only way’ Israeli-Saudi normalization will work

Is this a US or a Saudi demand of Israel?

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2024 (Photo: Antony Blinken/X)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel on Wednesday after making two prior stops in the region to Amman, Jordan and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

While the Biden administration is trying to promote a hostage release deal with Hamas and dissuade Israel from entering Rafah, it is also making an effort to push for a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal. According to several reports, all of these moving parts are somewhat intertwined.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who is known for his close ties with the White House, wrote last week that “Israel Has a Choice to Make: Rafah or Riyadh.” He claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon have to decide between carrying out a major military operation in Rafah – the strategic southernmost city in Gaza – which might lead to a US restriction on arms shipments to Israel and a historic peace deal with Saudi Arabia. Such a deal, he added, must include an Israeli commitment to a “political horizon” for Palestinian statehood based on a two-state solution.

The binary picture Friedman has presented was reflected in comments made by Blinken when he addressed the World Economic Forum in Riyadh earlier this week.

"But then in order to move forward with normalization, two things will be required – calm in Gaza and a credible pathway to a Palestinian state," Blinken said.

He added that the “only way” a Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement could work is through a pathway to a Palestinian state.

The U.S. secretary of state explained that the United States and Saudi Arabia were “very close” to completing the terms of their own agreements. He did not elaborate any further on the terms themselves, but it has been widely reported that the Saudi Kingdom expects to receive a bilateral defense pact with America, as well as U.S. assistance in building a Saudi civil nuclear energy industry.

According to The Guardian, if Israel resists the notion of a Palestinian state – the Saudis have already started exploring the option of moving forward with a U.S.-Saudi pact that is unrelated to normalization with the Jewish state. Some Israeli political commentators have called this report a “spin” meant to pressure Netanyahu into accepting the two-state solution.

Blinken believes that “the single biggest, most effective rebuke to both Iran and Hamas would be Israel having normal relations with every country in this region and the realization of a Palestinian state.”

“Of course, both Hamas and Iran have opposed a two-state solution. So almost by definition, achieving it would be a profound rebuke to everything that they’ve stood for and destroyed for in – over many years,” he said while in Saudi Arabia.

Yet, a recent report from The Wall Street Journal indicated that “Palestinian Statehood” is a demand mainly being made by the Biden administration and not so much from the Saudi side.

The WSJ quoted a Saudi official saying that the kingdom is ready to accept a “verbal agreement” only from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would be willing to renew talks for Palestinian statehood as part of the normalization deal.

That is far from accepting a two-state solution. In business dealings, crucial issues are not left to verbal agreements alone when both parties sign a contract.

While all sides involved in a potential peace deal – the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia – have an interest in seeing normalization happen sooner rather than later, the 2024 election clock is ticking for the Biden administration.  

In early April, the New York Times reported that former U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in their first conversation since Trump left office. The news outlet did not offer any specifics about their private discussion, but some believe it's evident that Trump is keen on being the American President to broker this significant peace deal.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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