US diplomat: Normalization with Israel a clear Saudi interest

Riyadh is the “preeminent target of the expansion of the Abraham Accords,” says chargé d’affaires in Jerusalem Stephanie Hallett.

By Etgar Lefkovits, JNS

A peace deal with Israel is a clear Saudi interest and will likely lead to further accords with additional Muslim countries, the acting American ambassador to Israel said Thursday.

The remarks by Stephanie Hallett, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, were the latest indication that American-led negotiations to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are in high gear, with an accord thought possible in early 2024.

“Saudi Arabia is the preeminent target of the expansion of the Abraham Accords,” said Hallett. “It’s clear it is in Saudi Arabia’s interest.”

The U.S. diplomat was speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv organized by Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization that connects Israeli innovation to the world, marking three years since the landmark Abraham Accords.

The U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords reached under the Trump administration in 2020 saw Israel establish relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

In her remarks, Hallett said that normalizing ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be a “natural progression” of the Abraham Accords, adding that other countries in the broader Muslim world may follow suit.

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She noted that Israel was a “natural place” for cooperation with Saudi Arabia in innovation and technology.

The talks over a deal are expected to last some months and include discussions over U.S. security guarantees as well as a Saudi desire for a civilian nuclear program, and Israeli gestures to the Palestinians.

“There are things that Saudi Arabia wants and needs from the USA, as well as from Israel,” Hallett said.

“Three years [since the Abraham Accords were reached] is an incredible milestone,” she added. “It is just the beginning.”

Israeli innovation

Meanwhile, Bahrain will host a major Israeli innovation conference next year, more than doubling the allocated space from an inaugural gathering held last year, Bahrain’s Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousif al-Jalahma said at Thursday’s event in Tel Aviv.

The “Connect to Innovate Middle East” conference with Start-Up Nation Central will be held in Manama in February under the patronage of the Bahraini leadership and with up to 1,500 attendees. It is expected to include leaders in the field of innovation and dignitaries from around the world.

The Bahraini ambassador acknowledged that ties between the two countries have progressed slowly over the last three years, especially compared to Israel’s budding relations with the United Arab Emirates, but urged patience.

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“This is something gradual that does not happen overnight. Some people have issues with coming to Israel,” al-Jalahma said regarding the trickle of tourists from Bahrain. “Just because it is slow does not mean it is not good.”

Savlanut,” he asked, using the Hebrew word for “patience,” to applause from the audience.

People-to-people

“In three decades of business, I have not seen anything more powerful than innovation and technology to create sustaining and meaningful relationships between nations and peoples,” said Avi Hasson, CEO of Start-Up Nation Central.

“The best collaboration is driven by the private sector and the people in Israel,” Hallett said.