Lapid: Biden's visit could improve Israel's ties with Saudi Arabia
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a briefing with reporters Wednesday that President Biden’s trip to the Middle East next month could lead to a warming of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which don't have official ties.
Why it matters: Saudi Arabia wasn’t part of the Abraham Accords that were brokered by the Trump administration and led to normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
- The kingdom supported the accords but made it clear at the time they wouldn't normalize relations with Israel unless there was serious progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Driving the news: Biden is expected to arrive in Israel on July 13.
- Two days later, he will fly directly from Tel Aviv to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to meet the Saudi leadership and hold a summit with nine Arab leaders.
- Ahead of the visit, the Biden administration has been quietly mediating among Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt on a potential deal to finalize the transfer of two strategic islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia, as Axios first reported.
- If successful, the mediation efforts could lead to separate normalization steps by Saudi Arabia towards Israel like allowing Israeli airlines to pass through Saudi airspace on their way to India and China.
What they're saying: Lapid said at Wednesday's press briefing that Saudi Arabia is the main country Israel wants to join the Abraham Accords. “We want a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia," Lapid told reporters.
- Nevertheless, Lapid stressed that building the relationship with Saudi Arabia won't be done “in a quantum leap,” but rather through small steps.
- “The rumors about talks regarding Saudi Arabia are not unfounded," Lapid told reporters. "Everyone is looking at Saudi Arabia these days and the fact President Biden will fly directly from here to Saudi Arabia signals that there is a connection between the visit here and the visit there and the ability to improve ties" between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Lapid said.
Behind the scenes: Lapid said he spoke in the last year with at least three foreign ministers of Arab countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel, though he didn't specify which ones.
- He added that Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita is expected to visit Israel in the coming weeks to upgrade the Moroccan diplomatic office to an embassy.
- He also said Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed will also visit Israel in the near future.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the U.S. is mediating on a potential deal to finalize the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, not from the kingdom.