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West Bank violence making Saudi-Israeli normalisation 'tougher', US says

At a Wednesday event, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said US is very involved in pushing for normalisation
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, on 28 June 2023 (AFP)

The ongoing violence in the occupied West Bank, which has seen a spike of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians over the past week, is making it nearly impossible to make progress on normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel, US Secretary of Blinken has said.

“We told our friends and allies in Israel that if there’s a fire burning in their backyard, it’s going to be a lot tougher, if not impossible, to actually both deepen the existing agreements, as well as to expand them, to include potentially Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. 

“It’s also, at least in our judgment as Israel’s closest friend and ally, profoundly not in Israel’s interest for this to happen - both because of the added degree of difficulty that this presents for pursuing normalisation agreements, or deepening them, but also because of the practical consequences,” he added.

Earlier in June, Blinken travelled to Saudi Arabia with a clear aim to foster normalisation, saying it was a "national security interest" for the US. Despite not clinching a deal between the two nations during his visit, his remarks claimed that President Biden was continuing to push that objective.

“We fully support Israel’s integration into the Middle East, and from day one, we have been working both to deepen some of the existing agreements and also expand them to other countries. That includes Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said at a news conference in early June.

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Earlier in June, a senior US official told lawmakers that there had been "a lot of hyperventilation in the press, a lot of excitable rumint" that a breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Israel was near.

"Especially in the Israeli press," assistant secretary of state Barbara Leaf told a Senate hearing.

Israel speeds up authorisation of 1,000 new homes in occupied West Bank settlement
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"They're just electric with the idea that Saudi Arabia might take that step."

However, the US secretary of state has issued concerns, as over the past week Israeli settlers have been rampaging through Palestinian villages near Ramallah and Nablus in the occupied West Bank.

At least one Palestinian has been killed in those attacks and dozens of people wounded. The majority were arson attacks on crops, cars and houses. Since the start of this year, Israeli forces and settlers have killed at least 171 Palestinians, including 26 children.

Last week, in reaction to Israel's decision to substantially increase its settlements in the West Bank, Morocco opted to withdraw from hosting an eagerly awaited summit. 

The event was set for next month and was to feature foreign ministers from Israel, the US, and various Arab nations.

Israel plans to authorise 1,000 new homes for the illegal Eli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that he and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich “agreed to move ahead immediately” with the planning. No further timetable was provided. 

“Our response to terror is to hit it hard and build in our land,” a statement from their meeting said. 

It is unclear if the 1,000 units are from the 4,560 units already proposed across the occupied West Bank or if they are entirely separate. The Jerusalem Post reported that the units are separate from the previously proposed ones.

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