WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday he thought Hamas was motivated to attack Israel in part by a desire to stop that country from normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia.
“One of the reasons … why Hamas moved on Israel, is because they knew I was about to sit down with the Saudis,” Biden said at a campaign fundraiser. The U.S. president indicated that he thinks Hamas militants launched a deadly assault on Oct. 7 because, “Guess what? The Saudis wanted to recognize Israel” and were near being able to formally do so.
Jerusalem and Riyadh had been steadily inching closer to normalization, with Biden working to help bring the two countries together, announcing plans in September at the Group of 20 summit in India to partner on a shipping corridor.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September and told him, “I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a hi storic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
The Saudis had been insisting on protections and expanded rights for Palestinian interests as part of any broader agreement with Israel. An agreement would have been a feat of diplomacy that could have enabled broader recognition of Israel by other Arab and Muslim-majority nations that have largely opposed Israel since its creation 75 years ago in territory where Palestinians have long resided.
But talks were interrupted after Hamas militants stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip where Palestinians live into nearby Israeli towns.
The Oct. 7 attack coincided with a major Jewish holiday. It led to retaliatory airstrikes by Israel that have left the world on edge with the U.S. trying to keep the war from widening, as 1,400 Israelis and 4,137 Palestinians have been killed. Hamas also captured more than 200 people as hostages after the initial assault.
The normalization push began under former President Donald Trump’s administration and was branded as the Abraham Accords. It is an ambitious effort to reshape the region and boost Israel’s standing in historic ways. But critics have warned that it skips past Palestinian demands for statehood.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said soon after the Hamas attacks that the militant group’s leadership may have been driven in part by a desire to scuttle the United States’ efforts at the sealing of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia
Such a pact between Jerusalem and Riyadh would be a legacy-defining achievement for Biden, Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.