CNN / July 9, 2023
Amid fast-changing Middle East geopolitics, President Joe Biden assesses America’s relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia—and tells Fareed that he is running for reelection to ‘finish the job’ of uniting democracies and making the world more secure.
Biden calls out ‘most extreme’ Israeli government for fueling tensions with Palestinians
Ben Samuels & Amir Tibon
Haaretz / July 9, 2023
Biden also says that an Israel-Saudi normalization deal is ‘a long way off,’ but ‘I don’t think they have much a problem with Israel, quite frankly’
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday slammed members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition for exacerbating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, calling it “one of the most extreme” governments he has seen in his decades in politics.
“Bibi, I think, is trying to work through how we can work through his existing problems in terms of his coalition,” Biden told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, adding “it’s not all Israel now in the West Bank, all Israel’s problem, but they are a part of the problem, and particularly those individuals in the cabinet who say, ‘We can settle anywhere we want. [The Palestinians] have no right to be here, etc.’”
He continued, “We were talking with them regularly, trying to tamp down what’s going on and hopefully, Bibi will continue to move toward moderation and change.” Biden further noted the Palestinian Authority has lost its credibility and created a vacuum for extremism.
When asked about a potential Netanyahu invitation to the White House, Biden said, “The Israeli president is going to be coming, and we have other contacts,” referring to President Isaac Herzog’s upcoming visit to Washington at the end of the month.
The president also defended his engagement with Saudi Arabia as strengthening Israel’s presence in the region, but added that the kingdom and Israel are a long way from a normalization agreement. Such a pact would include a defense treaty with and a civilian nuclear program from the United States.
U.S. officials have been negotiating in a bid to reach an elusive normalization deal between the two countries.
“We’re a long way from there. We got a lot to talk about,” Biden said.
Israel’s energy minister voiced opposition last month to the idea of Saudi Arabia developing a civilian nuclear program as part of any U.S.-mediated forging of relations between the countries.
Biden pointed to Saudi Arabia’s decision, on the eve of his visit to the kingdom last summer, to open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel.
The U.S. president also noted efforts toward a permanent ceasefire in Yemen, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and has widely been seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“So, we’re making progress in the region. And it depends upon the conduct and what is asked of us for them to recognize Israel,” Biden said in the interview.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think they have much of a problem with Israel. And whether or not we would provide a means by which they could have civilian nuclear power and/or be a guarantor of their security, that’s – I think that’s a little way off.”
Israel has said it expected to be consulted by Washington on a U.S.-Saudi deal affecting its national security. Israel, which is outside the voluntary Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has no nuclear energy, is widely believed to have atomic weaponry.
Pointing to precedents like Iraq and Libya, Israel has long worried that potentially hostile neighbors could use civilian nuclear energy and other projects developed under the 1970 NPT as cover for clandestine bomb making.
Biden would go on to cite U.S. security guarantees for Israel as a potential model for NATO offering full commitment to Ukraine’s security while not offering it membership into the military alliance in the near term.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid commented on Biden’s remarks saying that he “was right tonight when he said that this is the most extreme government in Israel’s history. They prefer Levin and Rothman’s crazy revolution to historic normalization with Saudi Arabia. Instead of dealing with security, the economy and foreign relations, they are busy only trying to corrupt the country and dismantle our democracy.”
Reuters contributed to this report