JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a peace deal with Saudi Arabia was still possible, despite intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
“I think it will be a reality,” Mr Netanyahu said during an interview with Fox News’s Special Report that was broadcast on Thursday evening. “I think conditions will be ripe. In fact, after a victory, I think they’ll be even riper.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said in September that the kingdom and Israel were getting close “every day” to a normalisation deal.
But Saudi Arabia has since criticised Israel’s conduct in the war.
The crown prince released a statement in October saying his country would “continue to stand by the Palestinian nation in its quest for its legitimate rights”.
Mr Netanyahu said that while Israel does not seek to occupy Gaza, the country is likely to leave troops stationed next to the territory to act as a deterrent to future attacks from Hamas.
“We’ll have to find a government, a civilian government that will be there,” he said. “But in the foreseeable future we have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. So we have to have a credible force that, if necessary, will enter Gaza and kill the killers.”
Mr Netanyahu denied there would be a stop in his country’s military campaign but that Israel would help civilians flee.
Earlier on Thursday, Israel said it agreed to limited pauses in fighting, a description that fell short of what the US hailed as a significant agreement for daily, four-hour halts.
“One thing we haven’t agreed to is a cease-fire,” Mr Netanyahu said. “A cease-fire with Hamas means surrender to Hamas, surrender to terror, and the victory of Iran’s axis of terror. There won’t be a cease-fire without the release of Israeli hostages. That’s not going to happen.”
“The fighting continues against the Hamas enemy, the Hamas terrorists, but in specific locations for a given period, a few hours here, a few hours there, we want to facilitate a safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fighting,” he said.
Asked about US President Joe Biden’s comments earlier on Thursday that the fighting has “taken a little longer than I’d hoped,” Mr Netanyahu responded, “Well, it’s taken a little longer that I’d hoped.”
“I’d hoped we could do it very fast,” the prime minister continued. “But we have battle conditions on the ground, the safety of our armed forces, the hostages we want to get out and the humanitarian corridors we want to affect, which as I said, Hamas is preventing by using its own fire, at gunpoint, preventing Palestinian civilians from leaving. So it’s taken a little while, but I think we share a common goal.” BLOOMBERG
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