An Israeli normalization deal with Saudi Arabia would pave the way for peace with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Sky News in an interview released on Friday.
“Working outside-in has a better chance of getting peace with the Palestinians than trying to bust through the Palestinians to the Arab world,” Netanyahu said.
Such a deal with Saudi Arabia “would be a quantum leap forward because it's the most influential Arab country, not only in the Arab world.
“So it would fashion the possibility of ending the Israeli-Arab conflict” and “it would help us solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he explained.
He spoke just one day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken completed a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he spoke with its leaders about such a deal.
The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said Riyadh would support such an agreement at the right time but that it would have limited benefits without the creation of a Palestinian state.
“We believe that normalization [with Israel] is in the interest of the region, that it would bring significant benefits to all,” he told reporters during a joint press conference with Blinken in Riyadh.
“Without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalization will have limited benefits,” Prince Faisal said.
“Therefore, I think we should continue to focus on finding a pathway towards a two-state solution, on finding a pathway towards giving the Palestinians dignity and justice,” he explained.
Blinken said regional integration and de-escalation were key to the region’s stability and prosperity. “The Gulf is more connected than ever – both as a region and with countries in the broader Middle East, including Israel. The United States will continue to play an integral role in deepening and expanding normalization,” Blinken said.
Such a deal, however, is heavily dependent on an arrangement between Riyadh and Washington. Riyadh would like Washington’s support for its plans to build a nuclear plan to be part of that deal.
“It’s no secret that we are developing our domestic, civilian nuclear program,” Prince Faisal told reporters.
“We have differences of opinion, so we’re working on finding a mechanism for us to be able to work together on civilian nuclear technology,” Prince Faisal said as he emphasized that his country would move forward on the nuclear power issue with or without US support.
Riyadh and Washington
The relationship between Riyadh and Washington is strong, Prince Faisal said adding that such ties did not rule out other strong relationships such as those his country has with China, which is its second-largest trading partner.
“I think we are all capable of having multiple partnerships and multiple engagements, and the US does the same in many instances,” Faisal said.
Blinken dismissed the idea that China’s growing role in the region was the result of the Biden administration’s waning influence there.
“We’re not asking anyone to choose between the United States and China,” Blinken said emphasizing that the US remains the number one partner of choice for countries in the region.
While in Riyadh Blinken called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to update him on efforts toward a Saudi deal and to discuss Iran and the Palestinians.
Blinken reminded Netanyahu that the US expects Israel to uphold the commitments it made at the two regional summits held this year in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh and spoke to him of the importance of refraining from unilateral measures that would “undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.”
The two men also discussed Iran’s push to develop nuclear weapons, with Netanyahu warning Blinken about the dangers of reviving the defunct 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. It was designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program but Israel has long believed that it strengthenedTehran’s push to produce atomic bombs.
Netanyahu “reiterated his consistent position that returning to the nuclear agreement with Iran would not stop the Iranian nuclear program and that no arrangement with Iran will obligate Israel, which will do everything to defend itself,” the Prime Minister’s Office explained.
The United States and Iran on Thursday both denied a report that they were nearing an interim deal under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
"This report is false and misleading," said a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
Iran's mission to the United Nations also cast doubt on the report, saying: "Our comment is the same as the White House comment.”
In Friday’s interview with Sky News Netanyahu said that the only way to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state was through a credible military threat.
Israel would not be bound by a revived 2015 Iran deal or any other insufficient interim deal, he explained, adding that his country would do “whatever we need to do to defend ourselves.”
The necessity of blocking a nuclear Iran, he said, is connected to Israel’s push to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia.
“Our hand is extended to all Arab Sets and certainly to Saudi Arabia, which is vitally important,” Netanyahu said, adding that I think it would change history.”
“One of the great goals that I set for myself coming back to office is to make peace with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world and to block Iran,” he explained.
Netanyahu during the interview also defended Israel’s right to build in Area C of the West Bank. It is "not true" that settlements were a hurdle to peace, Netanyahu said. In addition, he said, the ability of Israelis to access the sites of four abandoned settlements, including the construction of the Homesh yeshiva, did not violate any commitments to the Biden administration.
"The idea that the presence of Jews in their ancestral homeland, which has been our homeland for the last 3,000 years, that Jews should not live there... I think that's the obstacle to peace," said Netanyahu.
Since Netanyahu returned to power in late December Israel has approved the promotion of more than 7,000 new housing units, most deep in the West Bank, and amended a law that cleared the way for settlers to return to four settlements that had been evacuated.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters that "Israel attempts to mislead and deceive the public as if the settlements are not established on Palestinian land belonging to the Palestinian people.”
Reuters contributed to this report.