US senator to lead delegation to Saudi Arabia and meet with crown prince

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  October 6, 2023

Abraham Accords caucus co-chair Joni Ernest is expected to encourage Saudi Arabia to move towards normalizing with Israel.

US Senator Joni Ernst, who co-chairs the Abraham Accords caucus, will lead a delegation to visit Saudi Arabia and Israel in the next few days, Axios has reported. 

During her trip, Ernst is expected to meet with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the report, which cites Ernst’s office and an Israeli official.

“The historic Abraham Accords have already increased stability in the Middle East due to the once-impossible partnerships created and sustained by this agreement,” Ernst told Axios.

“This is just the beginning and this trip provides the perfect opportunity to grow US partnerships in the region.”

A source told the news site that Ernst is expected to encourage the leaders of the two countries to move towards normalizing ties between them.

For months, the Biden administration has been working to broker a deal between Israel and the kingdom, following through on the Donald Trump administration’s successful brokering of similar agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

Part of the US discussions over a potential normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been a Saudi-US military pact and US support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program.

If the US were to enter into a defence pact with Saudi Arabia, it would require approval from the Senate, meaning the Biden administration would need support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Earlier this week, a group of 20 Democratic senators sent a letter to the Biden administration raising a number of concerns over the reported concessions Washington was discussing in order to broker the normalization agreement, especially regarding the discussion of a Saudi-US military pact and US support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program.

“A high degree of proof would be required to show that a binding defense treaty with Saudi Arabia – an authoritarian regime which regularly undermines US interests in the region, has a deeply concerning human rights record, and has pursued an aggressive and reckless foreign policy agenda – aligns with US interests,” the letter said.

The senators also called for any deal to require Israel make “meaningful and enforceable” concessions to the Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia has never recognized Israel and since 2002 has conditioned a normalization deal on Israel ending its occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

However, in an interview Fox News aired with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the prince made no reference to a Palestinian state when discussing the prospects of normalizing ties with Israel.

Previous deals to establish formal ties between Arab countries and Israel have been widely unpopular among Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause, who see the deals as rewarding Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, which UN experts and rights groups say amounts to apartheid.