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Netanyahu meets with senior Biden aide to discuss IDF Rafah op, hostage deal and Saudi normalization

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, May 19, 2024 (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan arrived in Israel on Sunday afternoon for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of a new effort to secure a ceasefire deal in Gaza and possibly discuss advances in normalization with Saudi Arabia. 

Netanyahu and Sullivan discussed the ongoing fighting with Hamas in Gaza, particularly the Israel Defense Forces operation in Rafah. The southern Gazan city is considered the last Hamas stronghold, even though terror forces have begun to return to areas the IDF had previously captured. The IDF began a limited operation in Rafah two weeks ago but the U.S. has been pressuring Israel not to expand it.

According to a statement issued late Sunday night, the two also discussed humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza Strip, negotiations for a hostage deal with Hamas, and fighting with Hezbollah on the northern front.

Also participating in the meeting were Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, National Security Council Director Tzahi Hanegbi and US Presidential Envoy and National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk.

Sullivan arrived in Israel after a short stop in Riyad as the Biden administration continues its efforts at achieving a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

According to a CBS News report, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia could be "days away" from finalizing a historic bilateral defense agreement, which may also include steps towards diplomatic ties between Israel and the Saudi Kingdom.

On Saturday, Sullivan met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the agreement. Following the talks, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the draft agreement as "nearly final."

According to the Saudi statement: "The two discussed the joint efforts of the two states on the Palestinian issue, with the aim of finding a credible path towards a two-state solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations and rights of the Palestinian people.” 

Several Hebrew news sites claimed that Sullivan would present an American plan that includes an agreement to stop the fighting and return the hostages, followed by a gradual transfer of control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority with the backing of Arab states, in return for Israeli agreement to promote a Palestinian state. 

The U.S. recently began pushing for an international peacekeeping force in Gaza, largely composed of Arab nations. So far, few Arab states have openly agreed to participate. 

Palestinian political analyst Anwar Ghagab said Sullivan’s visit was “an attempt to pressure Netanyahu and reach understandings with him on all the controversial issues, first and foremost the question of the day after.” 

After his meeting with Netanyahu, Sullivan will meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. 

The U.S. diplomat is scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz tomorrow. 

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

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