The US is very close to a bilateral deal with Saudis

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The United States and Saudi Arabia are “very close” to reaching a deal that would provide Riyadh with security assurances from Washington while moving the Gulf kingdom away from US rivals, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Thursday.
However, he clarified that the deal hinges on a normalization component that would require Israel to agree to create a pathway for a future Palestinian state.
“We are very close to reaching an agreement on the bilateral pieces of the package between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Three US officials told The Times of Israel last month that the Saudis have continued holding high-level discussions with the White House aimed at brokering a normalization agreement with Jerusalem, despite the Israel-Hamas war’s eviscerating effect on Israel’s global standing.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the diplomatic initiative with Arab counterparts when he was in Riyadh on Monday.
“We were looking at not just a path to two states, but also the reconstruction of Gaza, governance of Gaza, security for Gaza.
“We might reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia on what this package will look like, but in terms of an actual deal that includes normalization with Israel, there needs to be calm in Gaza,” he said.
The US officials who spoke to The Times of Israel last month said the remaining gaps between Washington and Riyadh are bridgeable.

NEUTRAL

According to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, Washington and Saudi Arabia are “very close” to finalizing an agreement that would distance the Gulf monarchy from US adversaries and give Riyadh security guarantees.

He made it clear, though, that the agreement depends on Israel agreeing to normalize relations in order to pave the way for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the future. Miller said, “There is still work to be done” on that particular point. Before the October 7 attack, which was spearheaded by Hamas and set off the Gaza war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed no interest in making any such concessions. Since then, he has only strengthened his position, claiming that doing so would be a victory for Palestinian terror.

“Agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia on the bilateral portions of the package is extremely close to being reached. We still need to work out a few details, but we believe we can quickly come to an agreement on them,” Miller stated.

Despite the Israel-Hamas war’s devastating impact on Israel’s international standing, three US officials told The Times of Israel last month that the Saudis have persisted in holding high-level talks with the White House intended to mediate a normalization agreement with Jerusalem.

While in Riyadh on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Arab counterparts about the diplomatic initiative. “We were considering not only a route to two states but also Gaza’s governance, security, and reconstruction. While some components are more developed than others, Miller stated, “We hope to move forward with that and have the agreements prepared for submission as soon as feasible.”.

Miller reports that although the US may be able to work out a deal with Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations on the specifics of the regional diplomatic initiative to put before Israel, Riyadh has made it plain that it will not approve the agreement until there is peace in Gaza and a route toward another Palestinian state.

“We may come to an agreement with Saudi Arabia regarding the contents of this package, but calm in Gaza is necessary for a real deal that involves normalization with Israel,” he stated.

When asked why America was investing so much in this initiative given that Netanyahu was likely to reject it, Miller responded that America thought Israel would benefit more from regional integration since it would give the Jewish state more security, isolate Iran from the region, and give Israel allies in Gaza reconstruction. “In the end, the Israeli government will have to decide what is best for its citizens. “.

A spokesman for the State Department refuted rumors that either Saudi Arabia or the United States would back a deal without the normalization clause. “We and Saudi Arabia have made it very evident that this is a package deal that would include a bilateral component as well as a path to two states. “.

According to two people with knowledge of the situation who spoke to The Times of Israel earlier this week, Blinken advised Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders that if Jerusalem is still interested in signing a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, a hostage resolution must be struck quickly.

The officials said Blinken had issued a warning, stating that there is not much time left for a deal and that a significant Israeli offensive in Rafah would probably end it altogether.

The last gaps between Washington and Riyadh are brimming, according to US officials who spoke with The Times of Israel last month. The US officials claimed that there was greater division within the administration regarding Netanyahu’s willingness to further Palestinian statehood in order to win over the Saudis.

Given the sensitivity to the Palestinian cause in Saudi Arabia and among progressives in Congress, the Palestinian component is seen as essential to the normalization deal. Similarly, given the need to appease pro-Israel Republicans who are unlikely to support a deal crafted by a Democratic White House and Democrats who have been critical of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record, the normalization deal is seen as critical for advancing a major defense agreement between Washington and Riyadh to the final stages.

Despite this, the Biden administration is continuing the negotiations in the hopes of soon presenting Netanyahu with a proposal. This would force Netanyahu to choose between regional integration and keeping his far-right coalition partners, who would undoubtedly defect if he accepted the establishment of a future Palestinian state, no matter how theoretical, conditional, or distant.

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