The tripartite agreement between the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel is getting closer, and for the first time everyone is saying so publicly.
"Every day we are getting closer to an agreement with Israel," Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Wednesday in an interview with Fox News. According to him, addressing the Palestinian issue is important for reaching normalization. He also mentioned the nuclear issue, saying: "If Iran has nuclear weapons, we must have them too."
The interview, which will be broadcast in its entirety later on Wednesday night was filmed before the statements of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President of the United States Joe Biden during their meeting in New York, in which the two spoke with unusual openness about the initiative that the American president is leading. In an unusual move, Netanyahu linked the normalization with Saudi Arabia to "peace with the Palestinians" in the statement. But, Netanyahu faces a serious obstacle: on the one hand, the Saudis are making concessions to the Palestinians as part of the agreement, and on the other hand, his government partners Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir are not ready for far-reaching measures for Ramallah.
"For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part," the crown prince, known as MbS said when asked during the Fox interview what it would take to get a normalization agreement. "And we have a good negotiations continue until now."
"We got to see where we go. We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East," he said, speaking in English.
"There will be no Oslo 2"
In the conversation between Biden and Netanyahu, the prime minister said that Israel and the US see eye to eye on the Saudi nuclear issue - that there is opposition to giving Saudi Arabia the ability to enrich uranium independently, but they will allow it to have a civilian nuclear program.
Political officials privy to the details said that Smotrich had a series of conversations and meetings with Netanyahu on the subject, and made it clear to him that "there will be no Oslo 2." Smotrich's intention, according to the officials, is that "there will be no authorization for illegal construction, no construction freezes in the settlements, and no transfer of territories to the Palestinians" as part of an agreement with Saudi Arabia.
However, according to the same sources, Smotrich is ready for steps that will promote the Palestinian economy, such as the establishment of trade and development centers. "The essential question is the Palestinian Authority," he said. "What will happen to it? Smotrich wants to make sure that Oslo will not be here."
The finance minister has already said in the past that he supports the agreement with Saudi Arabia, but claimed that such normalization "has nothing to do with Judea and Samaria," or the West Bank, despite the Saudi demands. Despite the difficulties that Smotrich and Ben-Gvir may face, a senior political official in the prime minister's entourage in New York said after the meeting with Biden that Netanyahu has no intention of removing them from the government for the entry of more moderate elements. "Anyone who wants to join the government and is ready for its basic outlines - is welcome. But not at anyone's expense."
"The President emphasized the need to take immediate measures to improve the security and economic situation, maintain the viability of a two-state solution, and promote a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, President Biden called on all parties to fulfill their commitments made during meetings held earlier this year in Aqaba, Jordan and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to include refraining from further unilateral measures," according to readout. It also noted that Netanyahu and Biden will consult with the various countries and entities in the region to convene another summit like the ones held earlier this year in Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba.
"Iran will never have nuclear weapons"
Smotrich – who serves both as finance minister and as a minister in the Defense Ministry - more than once blocked concessions to the Palestinians on various issues, including those that were agreed upon at the various summits. His party even protested and said that the conclusions of these conferences do not bind them.
According to the senior political official, the main point of the meeting between Biden and Netanyahu "dealt with the question of how to advance the normalization and peace agreement with Saudi Arabia. Not if, but how. We went into a lot of details. There is a desire to overcome the obstacles and we do it by working together. There is no other way." He added that "there is an absolute identity between the positions of Israel and the US in relation to the issue of civilian nuclear power in Saudi Arabia."
Regarding the Palestinians' connection to the agreement, the source said that "Netanyahu told Biden that the Palestinians are part of the process - but they will not have a veto over it," and expanded that Israel strives for "an agreement that both countries can live with and pass the threshold of maintaining Israeli security. On the nuclear issue, we see eye to eye, both on what we agree on and on what we don't."
Netanyahu and Biden agreed that Iran will never have nuclear weapons. "Today we will discuss difficult issues - among other things, ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, and also regarding Saudi Arabia," Biden said. Netanyahu replied: "I appreciate your continued commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. This is critical. We can establish a strategic alliance that will end the Arab-Israeli conflict, that will promote reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state. I believe that under your leadership an unprecedented agreement can be reached with Saudi Arabia and even promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing that Biden and Netanyahu "enjoyed a frank and friendly conversation on a variety of issues. They welcomed the progress made to promote a stable Middle East, including normalization and an economic corridor." He added: "The president spoke about improving the security and economic situation in the West Bank. The leaders discussed Iran, its harmful behavior and how to ensure that it does not achieve nuclear weapons. Russia receives drones from Iran, and with them they damage civilian infrastructure and hospitals in Ukraine."
Kirby also referred to normalization with Saudi Arabia. "We think it is best for the leaders of the region to talk about how close they are to normalization and where they are in the process. These are sovereign decisions of Israel and Saudi Arabia. We encourage normalization. We think it is good not only for them, but for the entire region. We will continue to talk to everyone about it and advance the process, but in the end the parties will have to make decisions."