Netanyahu: Saudi normalization would be quantum leap forward, change history

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview aired Friday that a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia would be “a quantum leap forward” and “would change history” if it could be achieved, while saying such a deal was one of his primary policy goals in his latest term in office.

Speaking to Sky News, the premier said he could not guarantee that a deal will happen as “it’s up to the Saudis” but that he “certainly hope[s] so.”

Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu said, “is the most influential Arab country, not only in the Arab world — I think also in the Muslim world. It would fashion I think the possibility of ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, and I think that would also help us solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said Thursday that Riyadh normalizing ties with Israel would bring significant benefits to the region but that those benefits would be limited by the absence of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saudi officials have long said publicly that they won’t normalize relations with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, even though they’ve offered more flexibility behind closed doors.

The Biden administration has recently intensified its efforts to broker a normalization deal between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia has been willing to entertain the idea but is seeking several large concessions from the US. In addition to cooperation on the civilian nuclear program, which would likely be a cause of apprehension for both the US and Israel, it also expects security and economic guarantees from the Biden administration, a senior US official and a senior Middle East diplomat told The Times of Israel.

In addition, Saudi Arabia will expect a significant concession to the Palestinians in order to solidify any normalization deal, the officials said.

On the state of Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli leader repeated his refrain that “We’ll do whatever we need to do to defend ourselves.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a ceremony commemorating the death anniversary of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini at his mausoleum just outside Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2023. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In recent weeks there have been growing reports of potential progress between Tehran and Washington on a new nuclear deal to limit Iran’s nuclear work, which Israel, distrustful of such agreements, has been following with concern.

On Thursday the White House denied reports that an interim deal was near as “false and misleading.”

Netanyahu said: “I don’t think that diplomacy by itself will work. I think diplomacy can only work if it’s coupled with a credible military threat or the willingness to apply the military option if deterrence fails.”

He added: “Iran is openly committed to destroying, repeating the Holocaust and destroying the six or seven million Jews of Israel and we’re not going to sit by, idly by and let them do it.”

Asked whether he agrees with controversial past comments of his new media adviser Gilad Zwick, including that US President Joe Biden is “destroying America,” Netanyahu said: “No, and he has himself said these are views he held as a private journalist and that he has since changed his views, otherwise he wouldn’t be working for me.

“I think Joe Biden is a great friend of Israel, He’s the president of the United States of America and we work with him as we worked with other presidents, and we have confidence in the choices that America makes.”

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-US vice president Joe Biden speak in front of media prior to a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Netanyahu has yet to receive an invitation to visit the White House, six months after entering office, amid tensions with Washington over his government’s intensely divisive efforts to curb the power of the courts and hand greater authority to governing coalitions.

The judicial overhaul has been frozen since late March as the coalition and opposition attempt to negotiate a compromise following intense public protests by those who believe it will destroy Israeli democracy.

Asked on the matter, the premier to Sky: “It seems to me we have a situation where there is now a fairly broad majority that says we have to reform our judicial system, but the question is how much and how fast? And that is something that I decided… to try and get a consensus [on].

“I’m not sure we will get one. We have to bring it into a happy middle, it’s going to be very hard because it’s extremely politicized and often misrepresented.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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