Saudi Arabia may be willing to accept a non-binding commitment from Israel to create a Palestinian state in its push to get a defense pact with the United States ahead of the 2024 presidential election. 

Saudi Arabia had been heading toward normalizing relations with Israel and recognizing the country for the first time thanks to U.S.-led diplomacy. But those efforts were shelved in October after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, and Israel’s subsequent counter-offensive that enraged the Arab world.  

Still, Saudi Arabia is increasingly keen to shore up its security and ward off threats from rival Iran, so the kingdom can forge ahead with its ambitious plan to transform its economy and attract huge foreign investment, two regional sources said.

Riyadh’s diplomatic push comes amid growing concerns over the military reach of Iran, which has proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza. 

To create some wiggle room in talks about recognizing Israel and to get the U.S. pact back on track, Saudi officials have told their U.S. counterparts that Riyadh would not insist Israel take concrete steps to create a Palestinian state and would instead accept a political commitment to a two-state solution, two senior regional sources told Reuters.

Such a major regional deal, widely seen as a long shot even before the Israel-Hamas war, would still face numerous political and diplomatic obstacles, not least the uncertainty over how the Gaza conflict will unfold.

Another big hurdle to these plans is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has outright rejected any U.S. and Arab aspirations for a Palestinian state once the Gaza war is over.

A potential pact giving the world’s biggest oil exporter U.S. military protection in exchange for normalization with Israel would reshape the Middle East by uniting two long-time foes and binding Riyadh to Washington at a time when China is making inroads in the region.

A normalization deal would also bolster Israel’s defenses against arch-rival Iran and give U.S. President Joe Biden a diplomatic victory to vaunt ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election.

The Saudi officials have privately urged Washington to press Israel to end the Gaza war and commit to a ‘political horizon’ for a Palestinian state, saying Riyadh would then normalize relations and help fund Gaza’s reconstruction, one of the regional sources said.

Reuters contributed to this report.  

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