National security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that any deal must not include concessions to the Palestinians because the road to normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia is “still long.”
The United States has been trying for months to come to what would be a historic accord that Riyadh has hinted would depend on Palestinian statehood but that Netanyahu has argued would be a big step toward settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.
U.S. President Joe Biden last week dispatched his national security adviser to Riyadh to discuss a possible deal, and on Friday said a rapprochement was “maybe under way”.
“I can identify with what the United States president said in an interview a few days ago, where he said that the road is still long but that he thinks there will be a possibility of progress,” national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told public broadcaster Kan, adding that Israel is not involved in the U.S.-Saudi discussions.
“I can say that Israel will not give in to anything that will erode its security,” he added.
Asked whether this included Riyadh establishing a civilian nuclear programme on its soil, he said that for that, Israel’s consent was not needed.
“Dozens of countries operate projects with civilian nuclear cores, and with nuclear endeavours for energy, this is not something that endangers them nor their neighbours.”
The idea of Israel and Saudi Arabia formally cementing ties has been under discussion since the Saudis gave their quiet assent to Gulf neighbours United Arab Emirates and Bahrain establishing ties with Israel in 2020.
But on Monday a member of a key party in Netanyahu’s hard-right government rejected any concessions toward the Palestinians as part of a pact.
“We certainly won’t agree to such a thing,” National Missions Minister Orit Strock told Kan.
“We are done with withdrawals. We are done with freezing settlements in Judea and Samaria,” Strock said, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
Though it was unclear whether Strock was speaking on behalf of her entire party, such a position would pose a political obstacle for Netanyahu, who has cast the normalisation of ties with Saudi Arabia as a major foreign policy goal.
Her remarks were echoed by the head of another government member, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who heads the far-right Jewish Power party. He told Army Radio that he has nothing against diplomatic deals with Arab countries.
“But if this deal includes concessions to the (Palestinian) Authority, handing over territory, arming the Authority or giving … terrorists power then I surely object.”
U.S.-Israel ties have been strained in recent months by the government’s expansion of Jewish settlements on land that the Palestinians seek for a state and by contentious judicial changes pursued by Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition.