The United States has stressed to Israel that the explosion of tensions with the Palestinians will make it virtually impossible to expand normalization agreements with Arab nations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, adding that the Israeli government has taken some escalatory steps, including on settlements.
“We told our friends and allies in Israel that if there’s a fire burning in their backyard, it’s going to be a lot tougher, if not impossible, to actually both deepen the existing agreements, as well as to expand them, to include potentially Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The top US diplomat said he had raised the issue in conversations with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Blinken also said they had also raised “practical” issues related to its policies.
“If Israel were to find itself either by intent or by accident responsible for the West Bank, with three million Palestinians and five hundred plus thousand settlers, what is that going to mean in terms of the allocation of resources, including security resources that Israel otherwise be concerned about when it comes to Gaza, when it comes to Lebanon, when it comes to Iran. It doesn’t really add up,” Blinken said.
Blinken said the US had urged Israel to take steps toward de-escalation, which had “some success, particularly during the holiday season” of Easter, Passover and Ramadan.
“Now, however, we have steps taken, including on settlements, that are moving in the opposite direction,” he said.
Israel has already secured diplomatic agreements with several Arab nations, including Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
After his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, Blinken reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, saying he discussed the matter in his meetings with Saudi officials.
“We fully support Israel’s integration into the Middle East and from day one, we have been working both to deepen some of the existing agreements and also expand them to other countries. That includes Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said at a news conference in early June.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, speaking alongside Blinken, noted that “it’s quite clear that we believe that normalization is in the interest of the region, that it would bring significant benefits to all. But without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalization will have limited benefits.”
According to the State Department, Blinken spoke with Netanyahu following the trip about “areas of mutual interest, including expanding and deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region.”