Jan 19, 2023 - World

Sullivan and Netanyahu discuss possible Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization

Benjamin Netanyahu and Jake Sullivan meet in Jerusalem. Photo: Photo by Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

White House national security adivser Jake Sullivan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem on Jan. 19. Photo: Handout/Israeli Government Press Office (GPO)/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and discussed ways to broaden the Abraham Accords and reach a breakthrough that could lead to the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Why it matters: Netanyahu has set normalization with Saudi Arabia as one of his two main foreign policy goals. But Israeli officials admit that it won't be possible if relations between Riyadh and Washington remain tense.

Flashback: U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia deteriorated last October after the Saudis reached an agreement with Russia at the OPEC+ group of oil producers to dramatically cut oil production.

  • The Biden administration felt the Saudi move violated the understandings reached between Washington and Riyadh ahead of President Biden’s trip to the kingdom last July.

The big picture: Sullivan and Netanyahu also discussed the Iranian nuclear program, Iran’s actions in the region and its military assistance to Russia in its war in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the normalization process between Israel and its neighbors, Israeli officials said.

  • The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu expressed his gratitude for Biden's commitment to ensure Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons.
  • Netanyahu told Sullivan that the latest Palestinian moves in the international arena, especially the Palestinian Authority's push for the International Court of Justice to issue a legal opinion on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, "are an attack on Israel and oblige us to respond," the Prime Minister’s Office said.

What they're saying: “You come at a special time because we have acute challenges to our security and vast opportunities for peace. I am convinced that by working together, we can both meet the challenges and realize the opportunities," Netanyahu told Sullivan at the top of their meeting, which lasted for more than two hours.

State of play: Sullivan met separately with Tzachi Hanegbi, his new Israeli counterpart.

  • The two also held a virtual meeting with their counterparts from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
  • In a statement after the virtual meeting, the White House said the four national security advisers discussed ways to deepen regional integration, including in the areas of clean energy, emerging technology, regional security and commercial relations.
  • “The counterparts focused in particular on the climate crisis and welcomed the UAE's leadership in hosting COP28 later this year. They agreed to stay in regular contact over the coming weeks and months to work on expanding participation to new partners and to coordinate on shared interests and challenges," the statement said.
  • Later, Sullivan had a meeting with Mossad director David Barnea that focused mainly on Iran.

Later Thursday, Sullivan met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

  • Abbas warned Sullivan that the new Israeli government’s policy could have dangerous consequences and stressed the Biden administration must intervene “before it is too late," the Palestinian presidency said in a statement.
  • According to the statement, Abbas told Sullivan that the Israeli government’s policy and the recent sanctions it has imposed on the Palestinian Authority destroy the two-state solution, violate the agreements between the parties and ruin the chances that are left for achieving peace and stability in the region.
  • “We will not accept the continuation of the Israel crimes. We will oppose them and defend our rights, our land and our holy sites," Abbas told Sullivan according to the statement.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the statement from the Palestinian president's office.

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