US President Joe Biden’s alienation of Riyadh makes a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia difficult, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a trip to Jerusalem Thursday during which he positioned himself as a strong supporter of the Jewish state ahead of a possible presidential run.
“This administration has worked overtime to alienate the Saudis,” DeSantis told reporters on the sidelines of The Jerusalem Post and The Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem's "Celebrate the Faces of Israel" conference.
“You have a great opportunity to have a US-Israel-Arab country alliance, vis-à-vis the nefarious influence of the Iranians, and I think that is something that is doable,” DeSantis said.
“I think with proper policy and proper relations you could see Saudi Arabia recognize the existence of Israel,” he said.
DeSantis is on the third leg of a global trade trip, which also includes Japan, South Korea and the UK in which he has been dogged by questions of when he will announce his bid to unseat Biden in the 2024 presidential race.
“If there is any announcement, it will come at the appropriate time,” DeSantis explained.
While in Israel, DeSantis met with President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During both his keynote speech at the conference and his discussion with reporters, DeSantis set out a foreign policy agenda that included a strong US-Israel alliance and an anti-Iran stance.
He also endorsed the Abraham Accords under whose rubric Israel normalized ties with four of its Arab neighbors.“What’s right with the Middle East is Israel. What’s right with the Middle East is Israel working with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. What’s wrong is Iranian terror and ambitions in the region,” he said.
“There is perhaps no adversary more hostile to both Israel and the US than the Islamic regime in Iran,” DeSantis said, explaining that he opposed the revival of the 2015 Iran deal.
When it comes to security, DeSantis said, “We must support Israel’s right to defend itself, and that includes strong military and intelligence cooperation.
“It also includes supporting Israel maintaining its qualitative military superiority with systems such as [the] Iron Dome,” DeSantis said. “Our alliance with Israel rests on unique cultural and religious affinities,” DeSantis said, as he put forward an Israel policy that was in line with that of the former Trump administration, particularly with respect to Jerusalem.
DeSantis supports Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, West Bank
Trump had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and relocated the American Embassy there in 2018, but he was vague on the questions of a fully unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.
DeSantis was very clear that he supported a united Jerusalem as the country’s capital, noting that he had spoken about this prior to Donald Trump’s decision when he was in Congress, including holding a hearing on the matter in 2017.
“Jerusalem is... going back thousands of years, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. US policy should recognize the truth,” DeSantis said.
Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is critical to ensure freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians in the city’s holy sites, DeSantis stated.
“That would just factually not be true if that were in other hands,” he said. “We must also ensure that, however, the future political winds may blow, the US Embassy will always be right here in Jerusalem. That’s never going to change.”
DeSantis recalled that during his last trip to Israel in 2019, he had visited both Ariel University in the Ariel settlement and an industrial park in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, which he referred to as Judea and Samaria, explaining that he viewed the area as “disputed” and not “occupied” territory.
“Those are the most historic Jewish lands there are, going back thousands of years,” he said, noting that there “has never been a Palestinian entity.” DeSantis said he supported the stance of the former Trump administration on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noting that it had gotten “that right.”
“I would not fund things like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency,” DeSantis said, referring to the organization that services Palestinian refugees. Nor, DeSantis explained, would he fund the Palestinian Authority if it supported terror.
DeSantis underscored the importance of the US-Israeli relationship, noting that “Israel is also one of America’s most valued and trusted allies. Maintaining a strong Israel relationship has been a priority for me during my time in elected office, and I know it’s been a priority for the overwhelming majority of the American people.”
Unfortunately, Israel has become a divisive topic of the US political scene “with the Left going one way and the Right and the Center siding with Israel... I think there should be bipartisan support for Israel,” DeSantis said.
He spoke at a time when tension is high between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government over its pursuit of a judicial reform plan, which many fear would weaken Israeli democracy.
“We should not butt into their internal affairs, that is a debate that is happening here, it is obviously raging... but it is healthy to flush this stuff out. Israel is a rambunctious democracy,” DeSantis said.
He peppered his words with anecdotes, recalling how he believed that the prayers he uttered at the Western Wall in 2019 helped save his state from Hurricane Dorian, which at the last minute veered on another path.
“I’m chalking it up to the prayer I put in the Western Wall. People can offer whatever rationale they want,” DeSantis said.
He also recalled how he and his wife had put water from the Sea of Galilee into a bottle to use to baptize their children during a previous visit to Israel.
Within 24 hours of telling a synagogue group how the water had been spilled out by mistake, “I was sent, all the way from Israel, this beautiful big glass jar filled with water from the Sea of Galilee that sat on my desk in the governor’s office.”
“Just think about it. [From] what other country in the whole world could you have had a story like that?” DeSantis asked.