Sep 20, 2023 - World

Bibi to Biden: Palestinians can be part of Saudi mega-deal but can't have veto power

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Biden. Photo: Handout/Israeli GPO

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Biden Wednesday that Palestinian officials should be part of the process of getting a mega-deal that includes Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization, but they shouldn't have the power to veto parts of it, according to a senior Israeli official.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has stressed to the Israeli government that it will have to make significant concessions to the Palestinians as part of any possible mega-deal with Saudi Arabia.

  • But getting any meaningful concessions may be difficult as Netanyahu faces opposition from extreme-right parties in his coalition.

Catch up quick: The Palestinian Authority has laid out a set of deliverables it would like to see as part of any deal, including gaining more control over parts of the occupied West Bank, full membership at the UN and the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.

  • If the PA vehemently objects to the mega-deal, it will make it much harder for Saudi Arabia to gain any kind of public support at home and across the Arab world.
  • It will also be harder for the Biden administration to gain support from members of Congress, who have been critical of the Israeli government's actions toward the Palestinians.

What they're saying: During their first in-person meeting since Netanyahu returned to office nearly nine months ago, Biden reiterated the need to have a Palestinian component as part of any mega-deal.

  • Netanyahu said he agrees the Palestinian officials should be part of the process, but they can't have veto power over parts of the deal it doesn't like, the Israeli official said.

The White House readout of the meeting did not specifically address the need for deliverables for the Palestinians as part of any mega-deal, but a U.S. official said in a briefing with reporters that it's obvious a move like normalization with Israel by Saudi Arabia will require a Palestinian component.

  • "I think that is very well-known. I thought they had a pretty constructive discussion about that," the official said.
  • "There's a common understanding that all the leaders involved in this have to do some very hard things, and that includes the prime minister of Israel, and that includes some component related to the Palestinians," the official added. "I think there is a basic meeting of the minds on not only the importance of that issue but some of the contours of what would be required."

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview with Fox News that will air Wednesday evening that every day that passes takes Saudi Arabia closer to normalization with Israel.

  • He said that nevertheless, the Palestinian issue is very important for Saudi Arabia in any future deal with Israel.

The big picture: U.S. officials have said they want to get a deal before the 2024 presidential election consumes Biden's agenda.

  • But several outstanding issues remain, including a possible defense treaty between Washington and Riyadh and possible U.S. support for a civilian nuclear program that would include uranium enrichment on Saudi soil.
  • The Israeli official said Wednesday that the Biden administration and Israel "are totally aligned" in their positions about a Saudi civilian nuclear program and both countries won't give up on their clear red lines on this issue.
  • "It is not a done deal, and there are many variables, but the odds are more than 50%," the Israeli official said.

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