US expects ‘interesting things’ on Israel normalization during Biden's West Asia trip

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on March 8, 2022. (File photo by AFP)

The United States expects more Arab states to make moves to normalize their ties with the Israeli regime during the forthcoming visit of President Joe Biden to the West Asia region.

Barbara Leaf, the top US diplomat for Middle East affairs, at a congressional hearing on Thursday said Biden’s visit could bring new developments pertaining to the so-called Abraham Accords as Washington continues to bat for greater cooperation between Israel and the Arab states.

"We are working in the space that is not in the public domain with a couple of other countries," Leaf told lawmakers. "I think you will see some interesting things around the time of the president's visit."

She stopped short of naming any countries on being asked to elaborate, declaring that she “wouldn't want to step on the president's toes.”

The senior US official claimed that the United Arab Emirates-Israel relationship was “going like gangbusters" but that the Biden administration also wanted to encourage broader cooperation.

The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020 became the first Arab countries in decades to normalize relations with Israel in a deal brokered by former US President Donald Trump.

Saudi Arabia is yet to jump on the bandwagon, but the two sides have seen growing contacts and de-facto rapprochement in recent years, despite claims that it is committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which conditions normalizing ties with Israel on the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

The kingdom in November 2020 granted permission for Israeli airlines to use its airspace, hours before the first Israeli flight to the United Arab Emirates was set to take off.

Palestinian leaders, activists and ordinary people have repeatedly rejected Arab-Israeli normalization deals as “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people”.

The speculation is rife that Biden will be aggressively pushing for normalization between Riyadh and Tel Aviv during his trip to the region between July 13 and 16.

The US president is scheduled to meet Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and other regional leaders during the high-profile visit, his first to Saudi Arabia since becoming the president last year.

The American news website Axios on Thursday reported that White House has been working on a "roadmap for normalization" between Saudi Arabia and Israel ahead of Biden's visit.

However, the report said the Biden administration thinks that any roadmap for normalization will take time and will be a long-term process.

US ‘antisemitism envoy’ to visit Saudi Arabia in first trip abroad

Meanwhile, the US State Department announced on Thursday that Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, is set to travel to West Asia later this week as part of attempts to promote Israel normalization.

It said Lipstadt would visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE during the trip, which begins on Sunday, ahead of Biden’s visit to the region.

"Lipstadt intends to build on the profoundly important Abraham Accords to advance religious tolerance, improve relations in the region, and counter misunderstanding and distrust," the State Department said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, Lipstadt called Saudi Arabia a "very important country" that had "shown a willingness and openness to hosting me."

Lipstadt said she planned to meet with government ministers and civil society leaders while in the kingdom, although she did not share details of those she would meet.

Earlier this year, the Holocaust historian and staunch Israel supporter slammed an Amnesty International report that accused Israel of practicing apartheid against Palestinians.

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