US President Joe Biden held a “very constructive, very candid—ultimately, we hope productive—exchange” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior US official told the pool in an impromptu briefing.
The pool report did not name the official, who claimed that the discussion was the sort “that really only President Joe Biden could have with Bibi Netanyahu.”
“The president said … Saudi Arabia was discussed at some depth, and I’m just not going to get into the details of that,” the official said. “But obviously, the need for stability in the West Bank, we are concerned about violence in the West Bank, concerned about settler violence, concerned about terrorists violence. There were some I think, very constructive ideas about the way forward.”
“Normalization is a very complicated issue,” the official said. “Nobody has ever said this is right around the corner. We’ve worked on this for some time. We have been making some progress, but it’s typical. And there’s some ways to travel on this before we get there.”
A “move like this by Saudi Arabia will require a component dealing with the fundamental issue between Israelis and Palestinians,” the official said. “I thought they had a pretty constructive discussion about that.”
The official added: “I think there is a basic meeting of the minds on not only the importance of that issue but some of the contours of what would be required.”
White House invite?
“In terms of the president’s invitation to the prime minister for the end of the year, we have not obviously finalized dates or anything,” the official said.
The official added that part of the meeting between Biden and Netanyahu was “in a restricted session, so just the two of them, which is fairly standard, particularly with the president and prime minister.”
Position on judicial reform
“I don’t want to speak for the Israeli leadership or the prime minister, but it is our sense that there is an understanding that there needs to be a way forward there that involves compromise,” the official said. “And again, “We’re hopeful that they can get there, and again, the president has made his views on this issue very clear, publicly and privately, and he did so again.”
Eye to eye on Saudi civilian nuclear program?
“Whatever is done regarding civil nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia, or anybody else, will meet stringent US non-proliferation standards,” the official said.
On mutual defense
“I will say there is a security component to the deal. There are a number of components to the deal,” the official said. “A number of components that are fundamentally in the interests of the United States of America. That’s one reason we are obviously pursuing it but also for the potential global dimensions.”
Netanyahu to Biden: ‘We can make history’
During their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Netanyahu urged Biden to help bring together the Jewish state and the Gulf’s most influential Arab monarchy: Saudi Arabia.
“I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said. “And I think such a peace would go a long way first to advance the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state, and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Regarding a potential “economic corridor that would link Asia, the Middle East and Europe together,” Netanyahu said that Israel would be “a very important hub on a highway of unprecedented prosperity.”
He urged Biden: “I believe that working together, we can make history and create a better future for the region and beyond.”
‘Devil is in the details’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Saudi-Israeli relations with George Stephanopoulos in New York on Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“When it comes to possible normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, this would be a transformative event,” Blinken said. “We’ve had decades of turmoil, decades of conflict in the Middle East. To bring these two countries together in particular would have a powerful effect in stabilizing the region, in integrating the region, in bringing people together, not having them at each other’s throats.”
That won’t be easy, the secretary allowed.
“There are things that Saudis are looking for, things the Israelis are looking for, things we’d be looking for that make getting to ‘yes’ a challenge,” Blinken said. “But we see the reward, if we can get there, as well being worth the effort.”
“Do you believe that [Netanyahu] is willing to do what it takes to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia?” he asked Blinken.
The secretary said his sense is that all parties involved realize the benefits and “transformative nature of what this would be.”
“But the devil is always in the details, and making sure that in terms of what the Saudis are looking for, the Israelis are looking for, what—as I said, what we’d be looking for—can we line all that up? Can we make it work? That remains to be seen,” he said.
“It’s challenging,” he added. “I come back to this proposition that if we can get there, it would be one of the biggest changes for the good that we’ve seen in that part of the world. And beyond that, I think you’d see positive repercussions well beyond the Middle East.”