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US Hints at Step Forward in Israel–Arab Relations during Biden Visit

June 23, 2022

by: Ilse Strauss

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Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf

Thursday, 23 June 2022 | More Arab countries may be reaching out a hand of friendship to the Jewish state as early as next month when US President Joe Biden pays a visit to the Middle East, a senior US official said yesterday.

“We are working, in the space that is not in the public domain, with a couple of other countries,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing.

“I think you’ll see some interesting things around the time of the president’s visit,” she added.

When asked to provide more details, Leaf demurred, “I really wouldn’t want to step on the president’s toes.”

President Biden’s four-day trip to the region kicks off on July 13 with a stop in Israel. The president will then meet with Palestinian Authority officials in Judea and Samaria, before travelling to Saudi Arabia for a major gathering of regional leaders and an engagement of some sort with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Leaf’s remarks serve as admission from the most senior US official that concrete steps toward normalization between Arab nations and the Jewish state may take place during the president’s Middle East visit.

Two years ago in 2020, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco became the first Arab states in nearly 30 years to normalize relations with Israel under former US President Donald Trump’s Abraham Accords. Sudan soon followed suit.

Leaf acknowledged that the Israel–UAE relationship “is going like gangbusters,” but added that the Biden administration wanted to add more Arab nations with which it has relations to the Jewish state’s friendship fold.

Leaf didn’t give any indication which Arab countries might be cozying up to Jerusalem, but speculations have been rife regarding the warming ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

At present, the US is reportedly working to broker a deal between Jerusalem, Cairo and Riyadh to transfer the ownership of two islands in the Red Sea from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, a process believed to be paving another step in the road to peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, according to Israeli media reports at the time, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Salman sat down together for secret meetings in the kingdom in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords.

In a separate report, Axios also reported yesterday that the White House is working on a “roadmap for normalization” between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Citing four sources familiar with the matter, Axios said the plan was apparently disclosed during a briefing with a think tank last week.

Despite the positive indicators, Jerusalem and Riyadh are not expected to go as far as establishing formal ties just yet. For one thing, Saudi officials have indicated that the kingdom remains committed to the Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates that normalization with Israel hinges on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within pre-Six Day War borders.

This puts all eyes on Biden’s trip next month to see which Arab nations will be next to grasp Israel’s outstretched hand of friendship and cooperation.

Posted on June 23, 2022

Source: (Bridges for Peace, June 23, 2022)

Photo Credit: Executive Office of the President of the United States/commons.wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

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