US President Joe Biden on Friday announced two agreements made with Saudi Arabia which are widely considered to be significant steps on the path toward normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Haaretz reports.
Speaking to reporters from Jeddah, after a three-hour meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden announced one deal concerning the removal of multinational forces from the Red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran, and the other concerns the opening of Saudi airspace for all Israeli flights.
Saudi Arabia had control of both Tiran and Sanafir islands until 1950, when Riyadh handed them over to Cairo in fear that Israel would seize them. Israel did capture the islands in 1967 during the Six Day War, but returned them to Egypt in 1982 as part of its withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.
In 2017, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed that the islands would be returned to Riyadh, but due to the terms of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, it also required Israeli approval.
Israel provided tacit approval, pending an Egyptian-Saudi agreement to allow US-led multinational observers to continue their oversight of the islands while ensuring freedom of navigation for vessels en route to the Port of Eilat. That agreement has been at a standstill for the past four years, as final status issues have remained unresolved.
According to Friday's agreement, the multinational peacekeepers will be removed from Tiran by the end of 2022 and the area will be developed for tourism and other peaceful pursuits, while Riyadh will preserve and continue its preexisting commitments in the area.
“We’ve concluded a historic deal to transform a flashpoint at the heart of the Middle East wars into an area of peace. International peacekeepers, including US troops will leave Tiran Island in the Red Sea where they’ve been for over 40 years since the Camp David Accords,” Biden said in Friday’s remarks.
“Now as a result of this breakthrough, this island will be open to tourism and economic development while retaining all necessary security arrangements and the present freedom of navigation of all parties, including Israel,” he added.
"Saudi Arabia has agreed to preserve and continue all existing commitments and procedures in the area (that were agreed under the Israel-Egypt peace treaty)," a US official told reporters on Friday, according to Axios.
Biden welcomed the agreement, which the United States said was negotiated over many months and took Israel's interests into consideration.
The negotiations on this agreement paved the way for Thursday's announcement that the Saudi airspace will be opened for all air carriers that meet the requirements of "the authority for overflying", including those from Israel.
A potential deal on Saudi Arabia permitting direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims seeking to make next year's Hajj pilgrimage is still under discussion.
While the Hajj is not until June of next year, Israeli officials said, according to Axios, that the arrangements for such direct flights will take a long time to nail down, which is why they are beginning the discussions early.
The developments are encouraging regarding the prospects of normalization of the ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The two countries have for years been rumored to have behind-the-scenes ties with, but the Saudis have vehemently denied those rumors.
Saudi Arabian officials have repeatedly said that a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital is a prerequisite for Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel.
(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)