Israeli and U.S. officials on Monday rejected a report that Riyadh had frozen normalization talks.
A senior U.S. official called Saturday’s reporting by the Elaph online news site false, echoing earlier remarks by an aide to Benjamin Netanyahu aboard a plane carrying the Israeli prime minister to the United States for meetings in California and New York, including with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly general debate on Wednesday.
The U.S. State Department’s Near East Bureau on Monday also confirmed that “talks are ongoing.”
“The United States remains committed to furthering Israel’s regional integration, including through active diplomacy aimed at Israel-Saudi normalization,” the State Department wrote on X (formerly Twitter), adding that Foggy Bottom looks forward to “further conversations with both parties.”
The United States remains committed to furthering Israel’s regional integration, including through active diplomacy aimed at Israel-Saudi normalization. Talks are ongoing, and we look forward to further conversations with both parties.
— U.S. State Dept – Near Eastern Affairs (@StateDept_NEA) September 18, 2023
According to the London-based Arabic-language media outlet, which is owned by Saudi businessman Othman al-Omeir, who reportedly is close to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, an official in Netanyahu’s office said that Riyadh had told the Americans to halt any negotiations over normalization with Israel over its hardline government’s refusal to make any gestures toward the Palestinian Authority (PA).
A PA source told Israel’s Channel 13 that the Saudis are not satisfied with the media coverage of the discussions and are seeking to slow down the talks on possibly joining the Abraham Accords, saying that the negotiations are “progressing too quickly.”
The Arab source said that the Saudis wanted clarification from the Americans on what measures the Israeli government would be willing to take in favor of the PA Arabs.
The White House confirmed the Biden-Netanyahu meeting on Friday, with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan saying that the two leaders would “discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues focused on the shared democratic values between the United States and Israel and a vision for a more stable and prosperous and integrated region, as well as to compare notes on effectively countering and deterring Iran.”
Sullivan said on Sept. 8 that “many of the elements of a path to normalization are now on the table” in regard to a U.S.-brokered deal between Jerusalem and Riyadh.
“We don’t have a framework and we don’t have the terms ready for signing, there is still work to be done,” Sullivan told reporters, adding that there was a “broad understanding of many of the key elements.”
Last month, Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen conveyed that the “Palestinian” issue will not be an obstacle to normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia.
“The current Israeli government will take steps to improve the Palestinian economy,” Cohen stated in an interview with Elaph, amid reports that one of Riyadh’s demands for a U.S.-brokered deal to join the Abraham Accords involves concessions to the Palestinians.
David Israel points out that the Saudis may have said they paused negotiations to spare themselves criticism from the other Arab countries who have not yet made peace with Israel, when at the UN General Assembly this week.