Israeli-Saudi peace can solve Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu says

Netanyahu spoke amid rising international fears about the impact the new government he seeks to form with far-right coalition partners would have on Israel's relations.

 AN ECSTATIC Benjamin Netanyahu greets Likud supporters celebrating the election victory last month. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
AN ECSTATIC Benjamin Netanyahu greets Likud supporters celebrating the election victory last month.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

A normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia could be part of a new peace initiative that can resolve the conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday in an extensive video interview with the Dubai-based Al Arabiya English.  

"I think we can end the Arab-Israeli conflict and achieve peace with the Palestinians, we just have to be creative about it," he said.

"I look forward to discussing this with Arab leaders and the Palestinians themselves," he said.

Assuaging fears about Israel's incoming far-right government

No other Arab countries have joined the accords since then, but speculation has long been high that Saudi Arabia could be next.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani told Israeli reporters last week, including The Jerusalem Post, that no other Arab countries would join unless progress was toward a two-state resolution to the conflict.

 Saudi Arabia fans celebrate outside the stadium after the match with Argentina, November 22, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMR ABDALLAH DALSH) Saudi Arabia fans celebrate outside the stadium after the match with Argentina, November 22, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMR ABDALLAH DALSH)

Netanyahu who was prime minister when the accords were signed but left office in 2021, has long argued that Israel must make peace first with the Arab nations and then with the Palestinians.

On Thursday he spoke of the possibility that a Saudi deal could be part of a larger initiative that could lead to peace with both Israel's Arab neighbors and the Palestinians, even as he refrained from using the word Palestinian statehood.

"We can have a new peace initiative that will form a quantum leap for the resolution of both the Arab-Israel conflict and ultimately the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Netanyahu said.

"I am referring to what could be a truly remarkable historic peace with Saudi Arabia," he said.

"It will change our region in ways that are unimaginable and I think it will facilitate, ultimately a Palestinian-Israeli peace," Netanyahu said. 

"It is up to the leadership of Saudi Arabia if they want to partake in this effort, I certainly hope they would," he added. 

Netanyahu also called for the Biden administration to do more to strengthen its relationship with Riyadh.  

The US-Saudi strategic partnership has frayed since US President Joe Biden entered the White House in 2021 and there has been tension between the United States and the United Arab Emirates, which forged relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords.

"The traditional (US) alliance with Saudi Arabia and other countries, has to be reaffirmed. There should not be periodic swings, or even wild swings in this relationship, because I think that the alliance...is the anchor of stability in our region," Netanyahu told the Saudi-owned website.

"I hope to speak to President Biden about it," Netanyahu said.

Israel and Sunni Muslim Gulf monarchies share concern over Shi'ite Iran's nuclear and missile programs and its proxy network and see economic opportunities in the Abraham Accords.

Gulf states, which rely on the US security umbrella, have questioned Washington's commitment to the region. US-Saudi ties have been strained over Riyadh's human rights record, the Yemen war, and more recently, energy policy.

Saudi Arabia has made some gestures towards Israel, announcing in July during a visit by Biden to the kingdom that it would open Saudi airspace to all carriers. Progress on that for Israeli airlines hinges on approval from Oman on use of its airspace to skirt Iran for journeys to Asia.

Separately, in an interview earlier in the day with NPR, Netanyahu also spoke of the Palestinians, explaining that his new government would offer the Palestinians "peace" and "a better life."  "I have been a champion of economic betterment, not as a substitute for a political settlement but because I think it just makes life worth living and easier… It does pave the way for peace. The majority of ordinary Palestinians want a good life."

He clarified that his vision did not include full statehood for the Palestinians.

"The only peace that will hold is one that we can defend. And the one that we can defend is one in which the Palestinians have all the powers to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten our life, which means that security, in whatever political arrangements we'll have realistically will have to remain in Israel's hands," Netanyahu said.

"Joe Biden, friend of 40 years, when he was vice president, was in Israel. And he said to me, "But Bibi, that's not complete sovereignty." And I said, "You're right, Joe, but that's the only one that will last," Netanyahu recalled.