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5 Oct, 2023 15:13

Democrats warn Biden on Saudi-Israel deal

The US president should not rush into a peace agreement at the expense of the Palestinians, a group of 20 senators has warned
Democrats warn Biden on Saudi-Israel deal

A group of 20 Democratic senators has urged US President Joe Biden to think twice before entering a security pact with Saudi Arabia in order to coax Riyadh into recognizing Israel. Biden should also press Israel for concessions to the Palestinians, the lawmakers argued.

The White House is currently negotiating a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, under which the Sunni kingdom and the Jewish state would establish diplomatic ties, in exchange for a number of American concessions that have yet to be worked out. 

Among the concessions being considered are a formal security pact between the US and Saudi Arabia, along with the sale of more advanced arms to Riyadh and help in establishing a Saudi civilian nuclear program.

“A high degree of proof would be required to show that a binding defense treaty with Saudi Arabia aligns with U.S. interests,” the Senators wrote in a letter on Wednesday, calling Saudi Arabia “an authoritarian regime which regularly undermines US interests in the region” and has “a deeply concerning human rights record.”

Among the letter’s signatories are Chris Van Hollen and Chris Murphy, who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin. Together, the 20 signatories make up two fifths of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, and securing their support will be vital if Biden is to pass an agreement before the 2024 election season begins.

The senators also insisted that “the provision of more advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia should be done with careful deliberation,” so as not to encourage further escalation in Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen or provoke “a regional arms race.” Likewise, they insisted that Riyadh must be forbidden from enriching uranium beyond civilian use and must commit to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not ruled out acquiring nuclear weapons. Speaking to Fox News last month, he stated that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, “we have to get one.”

Any agreement must also preserve the option of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, the lawmakers continued. A potential deal should include “a commitment by Israel not to annex any or all of the West Bank; to halt settlement construction and expansion; to dismantle illegal outposts, and to allow the natural growth of Palestinian towns, cities and population centers,” they wrote.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not a supporter of Palestinian statehood, and Israel's annexation of the West Bank through the construction of Jewish settlements and outposts has dramatically expanded since he returned to office last year. Saudi officials will not press Netanyahu to offer major concessions to the Palestinians, Reuters reported on Wednesday, leaving it up to the American side to negotiate on their behalf.

“There’s still lots of work to do” on the deal, US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said on Tuesday, noting that the formal terms of the plan have not been agreed on yet.