Saudi Arabia must not bow to US pressure to normalize ties with Israel, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Thursday. His Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, however, predicted a deal with Riyadh could materialize as early as next March.
Malki spoke with reporters in Ramallah about the pending deal after Palestinian officials met with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Andrew Miller on Wednesday. PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh participated in the talks.
The PA has wanted the Saudis to insist on a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Israel has hoped to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia without such a step.
Earlier this week, Palestinian officials said they had received assurances from Riyadh that an Israeli-Saudi agreement would not happen in the foreseeable future.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was interviewed by US media outlets, and Cohen, who spoke with Israel media, said they were optimistic regarding such an agreement. A normalization deal could be reached as early as March, Cohen said.
On a visit with Bedouin in the Negev on Wednesday, Cohen touted the idea of direct flights from Ben-Gurion Airport to Mecca for the Hajj. In an interview with Channel 14, he predicted that such a deal would be followed by a normalization arrangement with an Asian country and a few other countries.
“The Saudis want a deal more than Israel does,” Cohen said Thursday. This is because Riyadh wants a defense pact with Washington to provide it with a protective umbrella against Iran, he told KAN News.
Saudi Arabia wants nuclear power
Saudi Arabia also has asked the US for support for a civilian nuclear-power program, which opponents have warned could lead to a nuclear-weapons program. It has also asked for increased sales of advanced defensive weapons.
Cohen said Riyadh had given the Biden administration its terms over a year ago, and Washington only began to move on the issue in earnest over the past two months.
“The Americans have an interest because Biden wants to reach the elections with a political achievement,” he told KAN News. “In my estimation, there is a high probability of a peace agreement.”
Riyadh is also motivated by its hope for an economic deal with Israel similar to what is happening with the UAE, Cohen said.
The UAE and Israel completed a free-trade agreement earlier this year, and Israel is pushing to finalize one with Bahrain.
Cohen plans to go to Bahrain on September 3-4 to advance talks on that deal.