According to a New York Times article published on Saturday, the Biden administration had discussions with Israeli opposition leaders about a scenario in which they would cooperate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to improve ties with Saudi Arabia.
According to the source, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan discussed important concessions that Israel would have to make to the Palestinian Authority during recent negotiations in Riyadh, including a pledge that it does not want to annex Judea and Samaria.
The meetings between the US and Saudi Arabia on the subject of normalization with Israel are reportedly being attended directly by both King Salman and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The king demanded that Israel make a “significant move” in regards to the Palestinian problem.
The Saudis are demanding additional concessions, including a commitment not to establish any new settlements or expand the boundaries of existing ones; a commitment not to legalize any illegal outposts; and the surrender of some Palestinian-populated territory in Area C of the West Bank, which is controlled by Israel under the Oslo A accords.
Prime Minister Netanyahu promised the UAE in the 2020 Abraham Accords that he would not take steps toward annexation until 2024. Although the administration believes that if the opposition dropped its objections to entering a coalition led by Netanyahu, it would be possible to build a centrist government with Gantz and Lapid and to mediate an agreement, it is improbable that the right-wing elements in the coalition would agree to such concessions.
There are also additional difficulties with the arrangement, such as Saudi demands for a mutual defense agreement with the US, akin to NATO, whereby Washington would be obligated to defend Saudi Arabia in the event of an attack.
The idea of such an arrangement has apparently deeply unsettled many US legislators and officials.
Israel and the US adamantly oppose Saudi Arabia’s desire to create a civilian nuclear program.
In addition, the US wants the Saudis to stop fighting in Yemen and provide the Palestinians with a sizable aid package in exchange for the peace deal. Despite these challenges, US representatives on Thursday in Jeddah “expressed cautious optimism that progress could be made as diplomats on the ground continue talking.
Any such agreement, according to New York Times reporter Tom Friedman, “would likely take months to negotiate and is still a long shot, at best.”