Framework for Saudi normalisation deal 'possible' by early 2024, Israel FM says
A US-brokered framework agreement for forging relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia could be in place by early next year, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on Thursday after the three countries signalled progress in the complex negotiations.
An Israeli-Saudi normalisation would dramatically redraw the Middle East by formally bringing together two major US partners in the face of Iran - a foreign-policy flourish for President Joe Biden as he seeks reelection in late 2024.
Biden voiced optimism about the prospects in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN general assembly on Wednesday. Separately, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said "every day we get closer" to a deal.
But a Rubik's cube of tie-in issues looms. Riyadh's quest for a civilian nuclear programme tests US and Israeli policy.
Saudi Arabia is also seeking greater rights for Palestinians, who continue to suffer continued Israeli occupation which has become more deadly and oppressive under Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government.
Bin Salman, also known as MbS, said in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday that "the Palestinian issue is very important," and needs to be "solved."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Israel's Army Radio that "the gaps can be bridged."
"It will take time. But there is progress," he added.
"I think there is certainly a likelihood that, in the first quarter of 2024, four or five months hence, we will be able to be in at a point where the details (of a deal) are finalised."
Such a timeline could enable the Biden administration to get through a review period in the US Congress and Senate and clinch ratification ahead of the November presidential ballot.
Normalisation with Israel is a controversial issue in the Arab world.
Palestinians - and much of the Arab public - condemned states such as the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain for establishing diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, pointing out that they were rewarding Israel while it continued to occupy the West Bank and besiege the Gaza Strip.
The normalisation deals were brokered by then-President Donald Trump.
Speculations regarding a normalisation deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been ongoing for years.