Israeli PM calls for ties with Saudi Arabia ahead of Biden’s visit

JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister on Sunday expressed hope that his country will establish formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, days before President Joe Biden visits the two countries as part of a regional tour.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official diplomatic ties, but have shared secret security ties over a mutual hostility with regional arch-rival Iran. The kingdom is widely believed to be among a handful of Arab states weighing open ties with Israel.

“Israel extends a hand to all countries in the region and calls on them to build relationships with us, build relationships with us and change history for our children,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said during a weekly cabinet meeting. He said Biden will carry “a message of peace and hope from us” when he travels to Saudi Arabia.

Israel’s ties with the Arab states have grown since relations with four Arab states were normalized in 2020 under the US-brokered Abraham Accords. Defense cooperation has intensified since the Pentagon switched coordination with Israel from US European Command to Central Command (CENTCOM) last year. The move lumped Israel’s military with those of former enemy states, including Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations that have yet to recognize Israel.

Biden is expected to arrive in Israel on Wednesday for a three-day trip that will also include meetings with Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. From there he flies directly to Saudi Arabia.

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, Biden said he intends to bring the two countries closer together.

“I will also be the first president to fly from Israel to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia,” Biden wrote. “This trip will also be a small symbol of the burgeoning relationship and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world that my government is working to deepen and expand.”

Formal relations with Saudi Arabia would be a major diplomatic coup for Israel. The kingdom has been publicly reluctant to acknowledge cooperation with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has long been a supporter of the Palestinians and their desire to establish independent states in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel conquered all three territories in 1967, but withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

The kingdom has long made the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel dependent on a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians have not engaged in any substantive negotiations for more than a decade.

But in recent years there have been signs of a changing attitude. Saudi Arabia has allowed flights between Israel and the Gulf States to transit through its airspace. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and last week several Israeli defense reporters visited the kingdom and published news reports of their reception. Israeli PM calls for ties with Saudi Arabia ahead of Biden’s visit

Dustin Huang

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