August 20, 2022

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Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks at the start of the the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 10, 2022.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

Israeli PM calls for ties with Saudi Arabia before Biden visit

Jerusalem — The Israeli Prime Minister expressed his hope on Sunday that his country will establish official diplomatic relations with it Kingdom Saudi Arabiadays before President Joe Biden visits the two countries as part of a regional trip.

There are no official diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but they have secret security ties due to mutual hostility to Iran, its arch regional foe. The kingdom is widely believed to be among a handful of Arab countries considering open relations with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said during a weekly cabinet meeting that “Israel extends its hand to all countries in the region and calls on them to build relations with us, establish relations with us, and change history for our children.” He said Biden would carry “a message of peace and hope from us” when he travels to Saudi Arabia.

Israel’s relations with Arab countries have grown since the normalization of relations with four Arab countries in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords brokered by the United States. Defense cooperation has tightened since the Pentagon shifted coordination with Israel from the US Command in Europe to Central Command, or Central Command, last year. The move brought the Israeli army together with the army of former enemy states, including Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that have not yet recognized Israel.

Biden is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday for a three-day trip that also includes meetings with Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. From there, it will fly directly to Saudi Arabia.

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In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, Biden said he aims to bring the two countries closer.

“I will also be the first president to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” Biden wrote. “This travel will also be a small symbol of the emerging relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which my administration is working to deepen and expand.”

Official relations with Saudi Arabia would amount to a major diplomatic coup for Israel. The kingdom was publicly reticent about recognizing cooperation with Israel. Saudi King Salman has always been supportive of the Palestinians and their desire to establish an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel captured the three areas in 1967, although it withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

The kingdom has long conditioned full diplomatic relations with Israel on a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive negotiations for more than a decade.

But recent years have seen signs of a shift in the situation. Saudi Arabia has allowed flights between Israel and the Gulf states to cross its airspace. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and last week several Israeli defense correspondents visited the kingdom and published news reports about welcoming them.