Israel and Saudi Arabia will deepen their economic and business ties even if they are not formally recognized, according to Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli Prime Minister told Bloomberg who trusts be able to reach an agreement with the Saudis under which the countries have official diplomatic relations. Without an agreement, both countries can build an “economic corridor” from the Arabian Peninsula to Europecovering energy, transport and communications technology.
“We are going to get it,” he declared in a televised interview on Sunday in Jerusalem. “My feeling is that we will realize it whether we have formal peace or not.”
It is unclear whether Saudi Arabia would agree to much deeper connections. Public opinion in the kingdom continues to oppose recognition of Israel.
Netanyahu, 73, has said normalizing ties would benefit Israel and Saudi Arabia economically and would deter Iran to aggressively meddle in the region, including disrupting oil transportation routes.
Although Saudi Arabia and Iran restored diplomatic relations earlier this year in a deal that China helped broker, Riyadh continues to view Tehran with suspicion and as a geopolitical rival.
The president of United States, Joe Biden is also interested in Saudi Arabia recognizing Israel. Last month he sent national security adviser Jake Sullivan to the kingdom, in part to discuss the issue with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It would have “enormous economic consequences for investors,” Netanyahu said. “If they had to bet on it, right now I would bet on it. But I can’t guarantee it.”
Riyadh has previously said that an independent Palestinian state is a precondition. In recent months he has expressed frustration at Israel’s deteriorating relations with the Palestinians, typified by the recent raid on a West Bank refugee camp and inflammatory comments by some far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition.
In private, the Saudis have asked for firm defense guarantees from the United Statesaccess to top-notch US weapons and the White House allowing them to enrich uranium on their soil as part of a plan to build nuclear power plants.
Netanyahu downplayed the Palestinian issue as something that would stand in the way of a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“It’s kind of a checkbox,” he said. “You have to mark it to say that you are doing it. Is that what they say in the halls? Is that what is said in discreet negotiations? The answer is much less than what is thought.
The prime minister refused to say whether he would accept limits on new Jewish settlement in the West Bank in order to reach an agreement with Riyadh. He said that would not allow a Palestinian state without Israel having security control over it.
“You will not have a Palestinian state, you will have an Iranian terrorist state,” he said. “The Palestinians must have all the powers to govern themselves and none to threaten Israel. This means that in any final peace agreement we reach with the Palestinians, Israel will have the primary security power in the entire area: ours and theirs.”
On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said he was confident Saudi Arabia would take Palestinian interests into account.
The kingdom “regards the Palestinian issue as a focus of its interest and a top priority in its regional and international deliberations,” Shtayyeh told a weekly cabinet meeting.
Normalization would be a major blow to Israel. Although it has signed historic diplomatic agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan since 2020, Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Middle East, with a government investing trillions of dollars to diversify away from oil. Furthermore, he is the guardian of the two holiest places in Islam, Mecca and Medina.
Despite the lack of formal ties, Israeli tech and cybersecurity companies have secretly done business with the kingdom for years. In late 2020, Israeli media said that Netanyahu had flown to Saudi Arabia to meet the crown prince, a trip that was never officially acknowledged by either party.
Some deals have become more open. Last year, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to airlines flying in and out of Israel. And this month, SolarEdge Technologies, an Israel-based S&P 500 Index company, announced the creation of a joint venture with a Saudi company to develop renewable energy in the kingdom.
© Bloomberg 2023
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