Binyamin Netanyahu says establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia can pave the way for peace with the Palestinians.
Mr Netanyahu, who is set to begin his sixth term as Israeli prime minister before the end of the month, told Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya that establishing ties with Riyadh could change the region in “unimaginable” ways.
“I think we can have a new peace initiative that will form a quantum leap for the achievement of both the Arab-Israeli conflict and, ultimately, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said. “And of course, I’m referring to what could be a truly remarkable historic peace with Saudi Arabia.
“It is up to the leadership of Saudi Arabia if they want to partake in this effort, I certainly hope they would,” he added.
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Mr Netanyahu said he would urge US president Joe Biden to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to Riyadh and other regional allies.
US ties with Saudi Arabia have been tense under Mr Biden’s administration, which has criticised the kingdom on human rights issues.
During his last term in office Mr Netanyahu took significant steps to end Israel’s regional isolation by normalising ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
Saudi Arabian leaders hosted Mr Netanyahu for secret talks and recently agreed to open Saudi air space to Israeli planes but Riyadh linked diplomatic relations with the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Both states view Iran as a regional threat and there are reports of extensive clandestine intelligence and military co-operation between the two countries.
Mr Netanyahu’s comments came despite the fact that he is poised to head the most radical, right-wing government in Israel’s history with coalition partners, while much of his own Likud party supports annexation of the West Bank. A coalition agreement signed with the far-right Religious Zionism party gives that party’s leader, Bezalel Smotrich, control over day-to-day affairs in the West Bank.
Addressing the agreement, Mr Netanyahu denied handing over decision-making in the West Bank. “In fact, all the decisions will be made by me and the defence minister,” he said. “My party, the Likud, will make up half of the coalition. The other members will work according to our policies.”
However, shortly after the interview, in an effort to appease Mr Smotrich, Likud was quick to issue a statement clarifying that Mr Netanyahu was referring to policy decisions on matters of security.
The clarification prompted outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid to repeat his argument that Mr Netanyahu is being held hostage by his far-right partners.
“Netanyahu in English: Only I determine policy! Netanyahu in Hebrew: Sorry Smotrich, I didn’t mean it,” Mr Lapid wrote on Twitter. “Netanyahu is a weak, junior partner in the government.”