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US desires Israel-Saudi normalization

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is fully invested in Israel-Saudi normalization, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC on June 5. He also said he does not see a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace happening anytime soon.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the AIPAC annual policy summit Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC, June 5, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“The US has a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said to applause at a policy summit of AIPAC.

He said it was critical not to escalate the Israel-Palestinian conflict but also made it clear that the Biden administration would not push for a revival of peace talks in the near term.

“It’s no secret that today the prospects for a two-state solution can feel remote,” he said. “But we are committed to working with partners and with the parties to at least maintain a horizon of hope.”

The emphasis on regional normalization over pushing Israel into reengagement with the Palestinians will be welcomed in Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his foreign policy priority is a deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration last year sustained the Israeli overflights of Saudi air space that began in the Trump administration.

Blinken formally announced that the Biden administration would name a senior official to manage the Abraham Accords, the 2020 normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab nations that was a signature foreign policy achievement of the Trump administration.

“We will soon create a new position to further our diplomacy and engagement with governments and private sector, non-governmental organizations, all working toward a more peaceful and a more connected region,” he said.

“We’ve already achieved historic progress to deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords, building on the work of the Trump administration.”

Biden has already decided to chose former ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro for the role, Axios reported last month.

Shapiro is already leading an Abraham Accords expansion initiative at the Atlantic Council think tank.

Among the agenda items for the 500 AIPAC activists as they planned to visit most of the offices in Congress on June 6 was lobbying for the passage of bills that would advance the Abraham Accords, through diplomacy and cooperative projects.

Blinken emphasized Biden administration unhappiness with some Israeli practices, including settlement expansion and the demolition of Palestinian homes one of whose family members murdered Israelis.

He also emphatically condemned the Palestinian Authority’s policies of subsidizing the families of terrorists who were imprisoned or killed in the course of their actions.

“We have to continue to reject unequivocally actions taken by any party that undermine the process toward a two state solutionn. That includes acts of terrorism, payments to terrorists in prison, violence against civilians,” he said.

Israeli and pro-Israel officials have long complained that pressure on Israel not to escalate is not matched with similar pressure on the Palestinians.

Blinken also alluded to Biden administration concerns about plans by Netanyahu’s government for judicial reform.

“We’ll continue to work with the Israeli government to advance our shared values and will continue to express our support for core democratic principles, including the separation of powers, checks and balances and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel,” he said.

Opponents of the proposed changes say the overhaul would sap the courts of their independence and remove a bulwark that protects democracy and vulnerable populations. Proponents of the proposed changes say the Israel’s courts have assumed power that no court system in any other democracy, including the US’, has. The courts overhaul is one reason Biden has yet to invite Netanyahu to the White House.

AIPAC’s agenda also includes bills that would further isolate Iran, which Israel regards as its most dangerous enemy.

For two years, Biden sought fruitlessly to revive the deal with Iran that exchanged its agreement to temporarily roll back its nuclear development in exchange for sanctions relief; Trump had pulled out of the deal.

More recently, US officials have said Iranian actions, including advanced nuclear activity and its backing for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, have rendered pressure on Iran as the preferred method for now.

Deterrence, Blinken said to applause, “includes strengthening Israel’s military capabilities.”

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