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Kushner says it's in Saudi Arabia's economic interests to normalise ties with Israel

Donald Trump's son-in-law said normalising ties would also weaken Iran's regional influence and 'help the Palestinians'
Jared Kushner speaks during a press briefing at the White House on 13 August (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Senior White House official Jared Kushner has said it would be in Saudi Arabia's economic interests to normalise ties with Israel.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Kushner urged the kingdom to follow in the United Arab Emirates' footsteps, saying normalising ties would also weaken Iran's regional influence and "help the Palestinians".

"It would be very good for Saudi business, it would very good for Saudi's defence and, quite frankly, I think it would also help the Palestinian people," Kushner said.

Israel and the UAE reached an agreement to establish bilateral ties on Thursday, a deal slammed by the Palestinians as a "treacherous stab in the back".

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While Emirati officials have hailed the agreement as a successful push to save the two-state solution by staving off annexation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed that he remains "committed to annexing parts of the West Bank".

Still, Kushner said on Monday that Netanyahu promised Washington he would not annex the territory without the White House's explicit permission.

"Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent," Kushner said. "We do not plan to give our consent for some time."

Early in 2020, Donald Trump presented a plan to end the conflict, dubbed the "deal of the century", that would allow Israel to keep all of its West Bank settlements in exchange for recognising a disjointed Palestinian state with no control over its borders.

Kushner said Abu Dhabi's move gave the Palestinians a chance to seek a negotiated solution with Israel. "The ball is really in the court of the Palestinians now," he said.

Targeting Iran

Thursday's deal marked the third time an Arab country has come forward to officially normalise ties with Israel, the first two being neighbouring Jordan and Egypt, both of which have taken part in US-mediated peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

The UAE is the first Gulf country to establish official relations with Israel, though many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, have quietly cultivated informal ties with the country. 

Kushner said that "a lot of GCC countries" wanted to have "breakthroughs", and that it was in the Gulf states' best security and economic interests to have ties with Israel.

"The more that countries come together like Israel and the UAE… the harder it will be for Iran to divide and conquer," he said.

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Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the UAE's decision a "big mistake" and warned "against opening the path of Israel to the region".

The UAE and Israel have long enjoyed open, albeit unofficial, relations, with Israeli government officials publicly visiting Abu Dhabi and the two countries announcing earlier this year a private partnership to combat the coronavirus. The two countries have also never been at war with each other.

"If you think about the people who don't want Saudi Arabia and Israel to make a peace agreement, the number one opponent for that is going to be Iran," Kushner said. "That shows that is probably the right thing to do."

But senior UAE diplomat Anwar Gargash stressed on Monday that normalisation with Israel was not about Tehran.

"The Emirati-Israeli peace agreement is a sovereign decision not aimed at Iran… We will not accept foreign interference in our decisions," he wrote on Twitter.