Friday , 8 December 2023

Biden, Netanyahu to discuss Saudi-Israel normalization, Iran

Al-Arabia – US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday will hold their first face-to-face talks since Netanyahu took power in December, with topics expected to include a potential Israel-Saudi normalization deal and Iran.

Biden had held off extending an invitation to Netanyahu out of concern about a judicial overhaul that curbs the power of judges undertaken by his right-wing government as well as Israel’s expansion of settlements on the occupied West Bank.

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Instead of meeting at the White House – Netanyahu’s preferred venue – the two leaders ended up arranging their talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

US officials expect the judicial overhaul to come up in their conversations, as well as efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of what would be a major development – a normalization of Israel-Saudi relations.

Netanyahu had expected an earlier US visit given his long history of dealing with American presidents, but Biden had resisted. Netanyahu did not get a meeting in the early months of the Biden White House in 2021 and was then ousted from power. He returned to power last December.

Instead, Biden welcomed Israeli President Isaac Herzog, a largely ceremonial post, to the White House in July to mark the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding.

Biden has been actively working towards achieving a diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Saudi Arabia has said that it will not officially recognize Israel until a resolution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reached.

David Makovsky, a long-time Middle East watcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the meeting “will occur 265 days after Netanyahu took office, the longest such gap since 1964.”

“The Saudi deal’s enormous potential has left Biden & Netanyahu little choice but to meet despite differences,” he said.

The Biden administration is calculating that the US could reap big rewards from such a mega-deal if it can overcome steep obstacles.

“Many of the elements of a pathway to normalization are now on the table. We don’t have a framework, we don’t have the terms ready to be signed. There is still work to do,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on September 7.

US officials have not ruled out an eventual White House meeting between Biden and Netanyahu.

With Reuters