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Israel says it hopes for ties with Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, but no deals imminent

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel is looking to expand its existing normalisation deals, but no agreements are expected soon
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference at the Israeli consulate in Dubai on 30 June 2021
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference at the Israeli consulate in Dubai, on 30 June 2021 (AFP)

Israel's foreign minister said on Tuesday that he hoped to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, but said the deals could take some time.

Speaking to Israeli army radio, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel was looking to "expand the Abraham Accords to additional countries" beyond the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

"If you're asking me what the important countries that we're looking at are, Indonesia is one of them, Saudi Arabia of course, but these things take time," he said.

Lapid added that "smaller countries" he did not identify could normalise relations with Israel in the coming two years.

Israel's President Isaac Herzog said on Tuesday that he would visit the UAE on 30-31 January and meet with its leaders.

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In 2020, the UAE became the first Gulf state to normalise ties with Israel during the final months of the Trump administration.

US Congress forms caucus to promote more normalisation with Israel
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Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco all followed suit, in deals that failed to address the Palestinian issue or Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and its settlement expansion.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest two sites, and Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, have conditioned any eventual normalisation with Israel on the addressing of the Palestinians' quest for statehood on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

However, despite the absence of official ties, Saudi Arabia agreed in 2020 to allow Israel-UAE flights to cross its territory. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's El Al Israel Airlines plane flew through Saudi airspace when he visited Abu Dhabi last month.

A covert visit to Saudi Arabia in November 2020 by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was confirmed by Israeli officials but publicly denied by Riyadh. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia share concerns over their common enemy, Iran.

Axios also reported last month that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the issue of normalising ties with Israel to Indonesian officials.

Along with Indonesia, US officials told The Times of Israel last year that Mauritania was on a list of countries that were close to normalising ties with Israel under US President Donald Trump. Ultimately, however, officials say the administration ran out of time to secure the agreements.

Earlier this month, a group of bicameral US lawmakers formed a caucus aimed at promoting and expanding normalisation with Israel.

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