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April 13, 2023 10:50 am

Israel’s Efforts to Expand Arab Ties ‘Chilled’ by Palestinian Tensions

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US President Joe Biden meet at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. Photo: Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsClashes between Israeli police and Palestinians on Jerusalem’s holiest site, army operations against West Bank terrorists, and controversial comments by officials have drawn condemnation from Arab leaders – hindering efforts by the Jewish state to build ties with more regional neighbors, according to Israeli and Gulf officials.

When Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office in December 2022, he touted that his priority was to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. While historic, it didn’t seem impossible after Israel normalized ties with a handful of Arab nations through the Abraham Accords in 2020.

Israeli leaders had also expressed optimism earlier this year that a deal with Riyadh would soon materialize – with help from the United States – as the common threat of Iran was bringing Arab countries closer to Israel.

But Saudi interest in openly embracing Israel has cooled amid intensified tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with more violence between Israelis and Palestinians as well as Netanyahu’s right-wing government pushing to build more Jewish homes in the West Bank, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) cited Israeli and Gulf officials as saying.

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“Circumstances have chilled enthusiasm,” an Israeli official said, adding that a clear sign of Saudi discontent is the flurry of official condemnations of Israel issued since Netanyahu returned to power.

Quiet cooperation still continues between Israel and Saudi Arabia on security, intelligence, and business. Yet, efforts to expand relations with the powerful Gulf kingdom and other Muslim nations have slowed, people familiar with the development told WSJ.

Israeli officials also noted they no longer think they can secure a deal to allow Muslims to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia for the sacred Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca later this year – something they hoped to initiate for the first time this year.

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