Netanyahu toasts improved relations with Arab states

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken at length about Israel’s expanding relations with Arab states.

Speaking at a Jewish New Year event at the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu, who is also Foreign Minister, said “what is actually happening with [the Arab states] has never happened in our history, even when we signed agreements”.

He added that cooperation between Israel and Arab states exists “in various ways and different levels” and that “there is much more than during any other period in the history of Israel”. Netanyahu described these developments as a “tremendous change”.

He also cited his Government’s diplomatic achievements such as improved relations with North America, Europe, Africa, Russia, Latin America and other regions.

Israel enjoys full diplomatic relations with Arab neighbours Egypt and Jordan, and security coordination between the countries is extensive. Furthermore, Israeli relations with the Gulf states have improved in recent years due to mutual security concerns about Iran, ISIS and a perceived American withdrawal from the region under the Obama administration.

Israeli government officials have expressed hope that close relations with Arab states can facilitate an “outside-in” Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The Palestinian Authority leadership, in contrast, are largely sceptical of such an approach, fearing that Israel will normalise relations with its Arab neighbours before a peace agreement is achieved.

There have also been indications that Saudi leaders are increasingly open to a more public relationship with Israel as they seek to form a cohesive regional bloc to counter Iran. They have indicated that normalisation of relations with Israel cannot be agreed without substantive progress on the peace process, but have expressed a willingness to pursue progress towards normalisation alongside the progress in the peace process.

In June, the Times reported that Arab and American sources argued that a warming in Israeli-Saudi relations would start with small steps, such as allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf, and letting the Israeli national airline El Al fly over Saudi airspace, although Saudi officials denied the story.

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