Israel’s UN Ambassador: ‘Never Been Closer’ to historic peace deal with Saudi Arabia

Biden and the Saudi Crown Prince ‘would never discuss peace deal publicly unless they thought it had a good chance,’ says Israeli ambassador.

By Andrew Bernard, The Algemeiner

Israel and Saudi Arabia have “never been closer” than they are today to reaching a breakthrough diplomatic agreement to normalize relations, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, told The Algemeiner in an exclusive interview on Sunday.

“The president of the United States and the crown prince [of Saudi Arabia] and the prime minister [of Israel] would never discuss it publicly unless they thought we had a pretty good chance to get there and have this agreement,” said Erdan, who added that some challenges remain.

“There are a few issues that need to be finalized, and they’re not easy,” he continued. “You mentioned the Palestinian issue. We would like them to be part of it because we believe that long-term it can contribute to their daily lives, their quality of life, they can benefit out of it, and maybe in the future it will also send a clear message to their leadership that they should think realistically and not speak to their rejectionist approach of [taking] 100 percent of their demands or zero.”

Erdan highlighted Israel’s diplomatic victories over the past week during the UN General Assembly’s general debate in New York, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaiming that the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia would usher in a “new Middle East“ should the two countries reach a deal. Erdan said their desire to broadcast that message directly to the Middle East extended even to the timing of Netanyahu’s speech.

“It was important to speak during the morning because the Arab world, especially people in Saudi Arabia or in other countries of the region, like Iran and others, it was good timing where they could hear what he said about the fact that we stand in solidarity with the people of Iran, how much we want to reconcile with Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world,” Erdan said.

The ambassador added that given Saudi Arabia’s role as the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, he believed that a normalization deal could have a “domino effect” with the rest of the Muslim world. “It’s going to be a game changer,” he said.

While much of the focus of the week was on Netanyahu’s speech and his meetings with US President Joe Biden and other world leaders, including Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Erdan himself had a dramatic encounter with the UN’s police service over his protest of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, with two officers physically removing him from the hall.

“They dragged me brutally outside of the General Assembly hall, which is something unacceptable,” Erdan said. “[But] the most important thing was for me to draw attention to the fact that inside the main hall of the building that was founded in order to prevent atrocities after the Holocaust and World War II, the murderer, the butcher of Tehran — who is not only murdering people all across the globe, he is responsible for the murder of thousands of his own people — he was given the red carpet treatment.”

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“I’m very satisfied that so many people from all around the globe were exposed to this moral distortion of the UN, and also many millions in Iran were exposed again to the fact that the people of Israel stand in solidarity with them,” he added.

Erdan, who for months has been warning about tensions along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, said that Iran is ultimately at the root of regional issues throughout the Middle East.

“Everything bad in our region starts from Iran,” Erdan said. “They have this crazy, radical Shiite ideology that they want to impose on all of us. And that’s why they arm and support all their terrorist proxies that surround Israel — not only Israel, by the way, [but also] other moderate Sunni countries like the UAE. They strengthened the Houthis, and Hezbollah, and Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In the past, it was hidden. Now, all these leaders meet together to coordinate their terror attacks. So, Iran is pulling the strings.”

Erdan explained that Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist organization based in Lebanon, was also taking advantage of perceived instability within Israel over the government’s proposed judicial reforms, which have sparked several months of unprecedented mass protests.

“[Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah himself, he said publicly when they see the protests in Israel, and when they see the rifts, they believe we are making another mistake. They believe that we are weak, and this is maybe the time to expand their audacity and try to undermine our sovereignty,” he said. “We addressed the members of the [UN] Security Council and explained to them that Hezbollah might wreak havoc on the region, and first and foremost on Lebanon, because once this escalation continues, we will be forced to retaliate.”

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Meanwhile, Israel is also expected to be admitted this coming week to the US Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of select countries to travel to the United States without a visa. Erdan, who previously worked on the issue when he served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told The Algemeiner that entry into the program would be the culmination of a years-long diplomatic effort between Israel and the US.

“That’s a huge, huge, huge accomplishment,” Erdan said. “Once it happens, and we will only know it 100% this upcoming Thursday morning, we will be grateful to the [Biden] administration … Every Israeli who wants to visit the United States will be able to [get visa waiver approval] from his home, house, or apartment online. And I’m sure it will increase the number of Israelis who will be visiting the United States, and that’s also another demonstration of the alliance between our nations.”