Israel prays for ties with Saudi Arabia, Herzog tells US Congress

Saudi-Israeli normalisation would be a ‘huge sea change’ for the Middle East and the world, Israeli president says.

Isaac Herzog stands on podium in front of Kamala Harris and Kevin McCarthy
Israeli President Isaac Herzog heaped praise on the US-Israel alliance during a speech to Congress [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has lauded the United States’s push to broker formal diplomatic ties between his country and Saudi Arabia, saying that a normalisation agreement would be transformative.

In a speech to Congress on Wednesday, Herzog — who serves in a largely ceremonial role — effusively praised the US-Israel relationship and called it “absolutely unbreakable” despite current challenges.

“Israel thanks the United States for working towards establishing peaceful relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — a leading nation in the region and in the Muslim world. We pray for this moment to come,” Herzog said.

“This would be a huge sea change in the course of history in the Middle East and the world at large.”

Herzog’s remarks signal that Israel sees normalisation with Saudi Arabia as a geopolitical prize: one that the administration of President Joe Biden is trying to deliver for the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared Saudi-Israeli normalisation a “real national security interest” for Washington. The top US diplomat visited the kingdom in June but has since said that establishing official ties between the two countries remains “difficult”.

Few Arabs states have recognised Israel — a key US ally in the region — since its establishment in 1948, but former President Donald Trump’s administration helped secure agreements for formal relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020.

Sudan also agreed to join the deals, known as the “Abraham Accords”.

Saudi officials have said Riyadh is sticking by the Arab Peace Initiative, which predicates normalisation with Israel on the condition that it withdraw from Arab territories and that a Palestinian state be established. The initiative also calls for a “fair solution” to the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian rights advocates have criticised the normalisation campaign, which overlooks the ongoing Israeli occupation and abuses against Palestinians.

On Wednesday, Herzog said Israel is “yearning” to “one day” make peace with Palestinians, but he placed the blame squarely on Palestinians for the conflict.

“Palestinian terror against Israel or Israelis undermines any possibility for a future of peace between our peoples,” he said.

This year alone, Israel killed at least 177 Palestinians, according to United Nations data. In 2022, Israel killed more than 200 Palestinians. Among them were two US citizens: Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and elderly Palestinian American Omar Assad.

Leading rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have accused Israel of committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.

But in the US, which provides upwards of $3.8bn in military aid to Israel annually, support for Israel has remained strong and bipartisan.

Herzog’s speech on Wednesday saw multiple standing ovations from lawmakers. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a symbolic resolution proclaiming that Israel is “not a racist or apartheid state”.

Still, a small but vocal group of progressives in Congress has been increasingly outspoken against Israeli violence. Several Democrats, including Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nydia Velazquez and Bernie Sanders, boycotted Herzog’s congressional address.

Tlaib and Bush released a joint statement on Wednesday, reiterating opposition to Israeli policies against Palestinians.

“Bestowing President Herzog with the rare honor of a joint address to Congress while the Israeli apartheid government continues to enable and directly support racism and brutal settler attacks is a slap in the face to victims, survivors, and their loved ones — including the families of Americans murdered by this regime like Shireen Abu Akleh and Omar Assad,” the congresswomen said.

Source: Al Jazeera