Hamas offensive undermines negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel

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Hamas' surprise offensive against Israel violently diverted global attention towards the Palestinians, and dealt a blow to progress in negotiations for an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia promoted by the United States.

Fighters from the group that rules the Gaza Strip, an overpopulated, impoverished enclave living under a blockade, launched thousands of rockets on Saturday and infiltrated militants into Israel, almost 50 years after the attack by several Arab states against Israel during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (Day of Forgiveness).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country is "at war."

Just a few weeks earlier, Netanyahu had left aside the Palestinian issue in his speech to the United Nations, stating that the normalization in 2020 of relations with three Arab nations thanks to the so-called Abraham Accords heralded "a new era of peace."

He also hinted that his country was about to achieve a greater achievement: its recognition by Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam's two holiest sites.

US President Joe Biden, aiming for a major diplomatic victory before next year's US elections, is pushing for that deal to happen.

More talks between the parties are expected in the coming weeks, despite skepticism from some of Biden's fellow Democrats about the security guarantees offered by the Saudi kingdom.

This weekend's violence shows unresolved disputes between Israel and the Palestinians and "makes it harder to sweep complicated issues under the rug, as the 2020 Abraham Accords did," said Brian Katulis of the Institute for Middle East, based in Washington.

Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, recently spoke of progress with Israel, but also insisted on the need to advance the Palestinian cause, seen as a priority for the aging King Salman.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry resumed its usual rhetoric in a statement on Saturday, saying the kingdom warned of an "explosive situation as a result of the continued occupation and deprivation of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."

Aziz Alghashian, a Saudi expert on Saudi-Israeli relations, said the statement was aimed at dispelling any notion that the kingdom would prioritize normalization at the expense of support for the Palestinians.

"This kind of situation has made Saudi Arabia return to its traditional role," he said. "Netanyahu placed another obstacle to the negotiations" by stating that his country is "at war." "I don't project that normalization will happen in a war context," Alghashian said.

A senior US official declared that it is "premature" to comment on the effect that the violence will have on normalization and the head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken, spoke by phone about the conflict with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan. .

According to a statement from Riyadh, in the call Prince Faisal highlighted "the kingdom's rejection of any type of attack against civilians and the need for all parties to respect international humanitarian law."

"Stop peace efforts"

Netanyahu expressed his hope that the Abraham Accords show that a two-state solution advocated by the Palestinians is already obsolete and that the future lies in relations with the Gulf Arab states, which share Israel's hostility toward Iran.

Netanyahu's government, the most right-wing in Israel's history, continues to expand settlements, although in 2020 it backtracked on its plans to annex the West Bank while courting the United Arab Emirates, the country that led the Abraham Accords, launched during the Republican government of Donald Trump.

Joost Hiltermann, Middle East director of the International Crisis Group, indicated that Hamas may have acted in part out of fear of an "imminent further marginalization of the Palestinian cause" if Saudi Arabia recognizes Israel.

Influential Republican Senator Lindsey Graham noted that Saturday's attacks appear "designed to stop peace efforts between Saudi Arabia and Israel."

"A peace agreement between those two nations would be a nightmare for Iran and Hamas," he said.

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