A top Israeli politician said on Sunday that establishing relations with Saudi Arabia did not appear to be imminent, citing sticking points in ongoing negotiations between Riyadh and US mediators.
US President Joe Biden, who has deployed his national security adviser to Saudi Arabia to explore a possible normalisation deal with Israel, said on Friday that “there may be a rapprochement under way.”
The idea 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 Riyadh has not followed suit, saying Palestinian demands must first be met.
“I think it’s too early to talk about a deal being in the works,” Yuli Edelstein, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Israel’s Army Radio.
He brushed off the possibility that the impasse between Netanyahu’s hard-right government and the statehood goals of the politically divided Palestinians was the main obstacle.
“How shall I put this delicately? There are clauses that are far more important or problematic than such-and-such declarations in the Palestinian realm,” he said.
“Most of the Saudi discourse is with the Americans, and not with us,” he added, saying that when it came to Riyadh’s demands of Washington, “there are some things we can live with better, and some things we can live with less well”.
Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, asked by reporters as he entered the weekly cabinet meeting whether there would be progress in the Saudi talks, said: “I hope so.”
Saudi Arabia seeks U.S. cooperation in establishing a civilian nuclear programme on its soil. U.S. and Israeli media have also reported Saudi efforts to upgrade U.S. defence imports.
Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel will build a 100 billion shekel ($27 billion) rail expansion that will connect its outlying areas to metropolitan Tel Aviv and, in the future, could provide overland links to Saudi Arabia.