Saudi Minister: Peace with Israel is a “strategic option”, but not before the two-state solution

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A senior Saudi minister has described normalizing relations with Israel as a “strategic option,” but said a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians was a “requirement” before Riyadh formalized its relations with Jerusalem.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir’s remarks during an interview with CNN on Friday evening came after Riyadh announced it would open its airspace to all civilian airliners in a bid to allow Israeli overflights.

US President Joe Biden, who met with Saudi leaders on Friday while in Jeddah for a regional conference, called the move a “tangible first step” towards normalized relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

But al-Jubeir poured cold water on the idea, insisting the Gulf kingdom’s stance on ties with the Jewish state has not changed.

“We said that Saudi Arabia supports the Arab Peace Initiative. In fact, we proposed it, and we made it clear that peace comes at the end of this process, not at the beginning,” the official said. senior diplomat.

The 2002 proposal offers Israel fully normalized relations with the 22 Arab League members if Israel agrees to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and with a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

File: Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

The plan has never been well received by Israel, which now argues that the Abraham Accords, which saw Israel normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, prove that the two-decade-old proposal does not is more relevant.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his own support for the Arab Peace Initiative during a Friday press conference with Biden in what was also seen as a rejection of US plans to advance the integration of Israel into the region without waiting for progress on the Palestinian path.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One en route to Jeddah that Biden “explained” to Abbas why integrating Israel into the region could “strengthen progress on the Palestinian path. “.

Nevertheless, the United States insists that its efforts to extend the Abraham Accords will not replace its efforts to promote a two-state solution in what is seen as a blow to the Trump administration’s strategy to advancing normalization, which has advanced the issue as a means of bypassing the Palestinians.

While it was widely believed that Bahrain had agreed to normalize relations with Israel in 2020 after receiving Riyadh’s blessing, al-Jubeir said on Friday that countries that signed the Abraham Accords made their own “decisions sovereign”.

“We hope these decisions will have a positive impact on Israeli domestic politics,” he added, joining a common talking point among supporters of the deals, who argue that member countries will be able to leverage their new ties to make advance Jerusalem. on the Palestinian question.

US President Joe Biden, left, listens to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech during a joint statement in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, July 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Still, the Saudi diplomat insisted that his country is “committed to a two-state settlement with a Palestinian state in the occupied territories with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

“We have… made it clear that peace [with Israel] is possible,” al-Jubeir continued. “Peace is a strategic option…but certain conditions must be met before it can happen.”

Following Biden’s meetings with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the countries issued a joint statement in which both sides backed the two-state solution as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The leaders noted their determination to remain closely coordinated in their efforts to encourage the parties to demonstrate – through policies and actions – their commitment to a two-state solution,” the statement said, adding that the two countries “welcome all efforts that contribute to achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the region.

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