Lapid: Israel hopes for ties with Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, but no deal imminent
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday that while Israel hopes to expand the Abraham Accords and establish diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, no deal is imminent.
The US-brokered deals saw Israel normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Speaking to Army Radio, Lapid said Jerusalem was seeking to “extend the Abraham Accords to other countries.”
“If you ask me what are the important countries we look at, Indonesia is one of them, Saudi Arabia of course, but these things take time,” he said.
Lapid added that the “small countries” he did not identify could normalize relations with Israel within the next two years.
His comments followed an Army Radio report earlier this month that a delegation of Indonesian officials had recently visited Israel to discuss coronavirus strategies.
Indonesian health officials met with Israeli officials in a bid to “learn how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic”, the report said.
The report did not specify when the visit took place, saying it was “in recent weeks”.
The reported visit came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly raised the idea of the country joining the Abraham Accords during a visit to the Indonesian capital Jakarta last month. The report, published by the Walla and Axios news sites, quoted Israeli officials familiar with the talks as saying no imminent breakthrough was likely.
In November, Israel’s charge d’affaires in Bahrain spoke with Indonesia’s defense minister in a rare public interaction between officials from those countries, which have never had formal diplomatic relations. The meeting between Itay Tagner and Prabowo Subianto took place on the sidelines of the annual Manama dialogue conference in Bahrain.
Additionally, National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata met briefly at the same conference with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, exchanging business cards with him, according to Walla.
Also in December, it was confirmed that Lapid and his Saudi counterpart Faisal Bin Farhan had participated in a virtual meeting of senior diplomats from around the world organized by Blinken aimed at strengthening cooperation to combat the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Both Lapid and Blinken released statements afterward, but neither mentioned Farhan’s presence on the Zoom call.
Riyadh has taken a number of steps in recent years to normalize relations with Jerusalem. The Saudis reportedly gave the green light behind the scenes to the United Arab Emirates to forge ties with Israel last year, and have since allowed Israeli planes to use their airspace for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, Saudi-Israeli relations have remained almost entirely unofficial, and the Gulf kingdom insists that will not change unless Israel makes peace with the Palestinians.
In September, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reportedly raised the idea of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the town of Neom, on the Red Sea.
Bin Salman did not reject the proposal out of hand, according to the Axios report, which cites three American and Arab sources.
The Saudi crown prince in turn presented U.S. officials with a list of steps that would need to take place before such a normalization deal could move forward, according to the report. Those moves included improving bilateral US-Saudi relations, after ties have cooled since the election of US President Joe Biden, who has been more critical of Riyadh’s human rights record.