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Friday, June 02, 2023
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Talks reportedly being held under Bahraini mediation, pressure from the Biden Administration.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in negotiations for a potential normalization agreement under Bahraini mediation for the last day, Channel 12 News correspondent Sapir Lipkin reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen are involved in the telephone negotiations. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Manama in Bahrain and is holding the talks from there, mediated by the Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani.

Bahrain was chosen as a mediator for the negotiations at the request of the Saudis, although Israel reportedly preferred the US as the mediator. A source involved in the talks told Channel 12 News that “the negotiations are very complex” and are being conducted under pressure exerted by the Biden Administration.

According to sources in Saudi Arabia, among the main demands of the Saudi palace that came up in the negotiations are the granting of concessions to the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, including the relinquishment of the IDF’s Authority in favor of strengthening the PA security forces. The Saudis also demand that Mahmoud Abbas and the members of the Palestinian Authority be given security powers in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, not including the Western Wall, which will remain under Israel’s authority, and more.

The Israeli government is highly unlikely to approve these far-reaching steps.

Saudi Arabia has also reportedly issued a list of demands that the US must fulfill if the kingdom agrees to normalize its relations with Israel, including the right to a civilian nuclear program in light of Iran’s nuclear program, the expansion of defensive ties with the US, the expansion of trade with the US, and an end to US criticism of Saudi Arabia over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Prince Mohammed, commonly known as MBS, turned down a proposal by Netanyahu to meet in person, the officials said.

Israeli officials said that complex negotiations will continue over the next weeks, after which it will become clear whether a deal is attainable.

The normalization talks come as an agreement to allow direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia for Muslims undertaking the pilgrimage to Mecca is expected to be announced next month.

Israel is working with Saudi Arabia to allow direct flights for its Muslim citizens who will undertake the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca next month, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said this week.

A ministry spokesman told JNS that Israel was working to reach an agreement over the flights. Saudi approval for them would be another step forward in normalization between the nations.

Israel has issued a formal request for the flights and is awaiting the Saudi response, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said earlier this month.

Currently, Israelis who undertake the annual pilgrimage have to travel through third countries such as Jordan, incurring increased expense on both the outbound and return journeys. About 18% of Israeli citizens are Muslim.

Saudi Arabia has allowed Israeli commercial planes to overfly its territory since the summer of 2022.

Israeli officials have noted that the confirmation could come next month at the 11th hour, just before the pilgrimage begins.

The talks come amid an intensive diplomatic push to normalize ties by the end of the year.

The White House is pressing for a peace deal in the next six months before U.S. President Joe Biden goes into full campaign mode, Axios reported, citing two U.S. officials.

U.S. officials argued it is in Saudi Arabia’s interest to forge an agreement while Biden is in office as it would receive bipartisan support. While Republicans support a Saudi deal, many Democrats would only do so if an agreement is made under their party’s president, the American officials claimed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long voiced the hope of reaching a peace accord with Saudi Arabia, saying it would be a “quantum leap” for regional peace that would effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is eager to bring Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords.

“Obviously, the next step could be not just another country but a quantum leap in expanding the circle of peace, and I’m talking, of course, about peace with Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu told the National Leadership Mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem in February.

“I think that if we can achieve this, maybe through gradual steps, maybe it will take some normalization steps. It will change Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Arab world,” he continued. “It will lead to the effective ending of the Israeli-Arab conflict—not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [but] the Israeli-Arab conflict, and will also help normalize Israel’s relationship with a great part of the Muslim world.”

By Israel National News and combined sources

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