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Israeli-Saudi normalization still elusive despite US push

The Biden administration is seeking full diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, but Riyadh is unlikely to embrace normalization without significant concessions.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia takes his seat ahead of a working lunch at the G-20 Summit, Nusa Dua, Indonesia, Nov. 15, 2022.

WASHINGTON —  A flurry of recent reports suggest Israel and Saudi Arabia are slowly inching closer to a once-unthinkable restoration of ties, with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen telling Al-Monitor last week that the two countries could reach a breakthrough by the end of the year. 

Saudi Arabia is expected to announce, possibly as soon as next month, that it will allow Israel’s Muslim citizens to take direct flights to the holy city of Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage that begins in late June. 

The Saudi-Israeli unofficial relationship is creeping forward as the Biden administration tries to build on former President Donald Trump's Abraham Accords, which established formal diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain.   

The administration recently dispatched national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the White House’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and energy czar Amos Hochstein to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Riyadh. From there, McGurk and Hochstein traveled to Jerusalem to brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on their discussions with Prince Mohammed. 

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