Saudis Contradict Biden; Opening Airspace ‘Has Nothing to Do With Diplomatic Ties With Israel’

( – Israel may be the main beneficiary of Saudi Arabia’s decision to opening its airspace to “all air carriers,” but the kingdom is not acknowledging publicly any willingness to move towards normalizing relations with the Jewish state.

President Biden hailed the move, which was announced hours before he flew from Israel to Jeddah on Friday, saying the “decision can help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia.”

During his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Biden again talked up the announcement, calling it “a big deal” – three times in the space of several seconds – and adding that “this is the first tangible step in the path of what I hope will eventually be a broader normalization of relations.”

But from the Saudis came a different message.

“This has nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel,” Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said during a press conference in Jeddah, in response to a Pakistani journalist’s question about the airspace announcement.


“The issue of overflights is a decision we took based on our commitments under the Chicago protocols and also in the interests of providing connectivity between countries of the world,” Faisal continued. “And we hope that it will make some travelers’ lives easier.”

“It’s not in any way a prete – a precursor to any further steps.”

The “protocols” refer to the Chicago Convention of 1944, which calls on signatories to “avoid discrimination” between countries in the aviation sector. Saudi Arabia ratified the convention 60 years ago but for almost all of that time has strictly prohibited all aircraft flying to or from Israel from crossing its airspace.

The new policy will enable Israeli civilian aircraft to cross Saudi Arabia on the way to and from destinations in Asia, significantly reducing the lengthy flight times resulting from current routes skirting the Arabian peninsula.

Under the Trump-brokered “Abraham accords,” Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco in the course of four months. The Biden administration, after some initial reluctance, embraced the accords and has been supportive of the deepening economic and security cooperation arising from them, especially in the cases of the UAE and Bahrain.

Given its prominence in the Arab and Muslims worlds, Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel would be the most significant achievement in Israeli-Arab coexistence since Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace agreement with Israel.

On Friday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan attributed the Saudi airspace announcement to “the president’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months.”

Faisal’s comments suggested, however, that the Saudis are not ready to allow Biden to take credit for any breakthrough.

In a PBS interview over the weekend, Adel al-Jubeir, a veteran Saudi diplomat and former foreign minister who now holds a more junior foreign affairs post, was asked about the normalization issue. He tied it to progress in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“It’s not about normalization,” he said. “Our objective is to have peace in which you have two states living side-by-side in peace and security, and both states prospering.”

“We believe that when you reach that point then everything is possible.”

Jubeir expressed the hope that ties between Israel and other Arab states would help move things in the right direction by shifting opinions inside Israel.

“We see the countries that signed agreements with Israel under the so-called Abraham accords, and we’re beginning to see some impact of those decisions on Israeli domestic politics, with regards to the benefits of having peace,” he said.

“And we hope that those positive changes will continue and lead to a more forward-leaning policy among – within Israel towards an accommodation with the Palestinians.”

The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly rejected the Abraham accords, saying no Arab state should normalize ties with Israel until Palestinians have statehood.

In a letter Sunday to Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas thanked them for backing the Palestinian cause during their talks with Biden in Jeddah.


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