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Netanyahu bullish on Saudi normalization in U.N. General Assembly speech

The Israeli prime minister took a victory lap over the Abraham Accords while emphasizing threats from Iran and artificial intelligence in his address

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at the United Nations headquarters on September 22, 2023, in New York City.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was enthusiastic about the chances of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday morning, while also warning about threats from Iran and artificial intelligence.

“We are at the cusp of an even more dramatic breakthrough [than the Abraham Accords],” Netanyahu said, “a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Netanyahu said that such a peace would help usher in the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, improve chances of peace with the Palestinians and advance reconciliation between Judaism and Islam. 

Despite the tensions between the two leaders, Netanyahu credited President Joe Biden for his work in advancing negotiations with Saudi Arabia.

“We share the same optimism for what can be achieved and I deeply appreciate his commitment to seize this historic opportunity,” Netanyahu said. “Just as we achieved the Abraham Accords with the leadership of President Trump, I believe we can achieve peace with Saudi Arabia with the leadership of President Biden. Working together with the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, we can shape the future of great lessons for all our peoples.”

Netanyahu described the recent agreement to create a trade corridor from India to Europe through the Middle East as “a new corridor of peace and prosperity” and “another pivot of history.” 

A representative of Saudi Arabia remained in the U.N. chamber observing Netanyahu’s speech.

The Israeli prime minister used the speech as his first opportunity at the U.N. to take a victory lap for the Abraham Accords, which he said had validated his approach to regional peace over others favored by many in the international community.

He argued that previous efforts at peacemaking had failed “because they were based on one false idea that unless we first concluded a peace agreement with the Palestinians, no other Arab state would normalize its relations with Israel.”

“For years, my approach to peace was rejected by the so-called experts,” he continued. “Well, they were wrong… In 2020, under the approach that I advocated, we tried something different. And in no time, we achieved an amazing breakthrough.”

Netanyahu warned, however, that Iran would “do everything they can to thwart this historic peace,” highlighting the regime’s global threats, nuclear program, repression of its own people and proliferation of weapons throughout the region and world.

“Yet the regime’s aggression is largely met by indifference from the international community,” the Israeli PM lamented, calling for the international community to implement the snapback mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal to reimpose sanctions on Iran.

“And above all, Iran must face a credible nuclear threat,” Netanyahu said. “As long as I’m prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. (Netanyahu’s prepared remarks shared following the speech showed that the prime minister intended to say “credible military threat.”)

Netanyahu said that the expanding Abraham Accords could be a path to peace with the Palestinians, but called on Palestinian leadership to stop spreading antisemitic propaganda and providing payments to the families of terrorists.

“Antisemitism must be rejected wherever it appears, whether on the left or on the right, whether in the halls of universities or in the halls of the United Nations,” he said.

The Israeli leader discussed the dangers and opportunities of artificial intelligence — another theme of his visit to the U.S., which included a stop with Elon Musk in Silicon Valley.

“Whether our future will prove to be a blessing or a curse will also depend on how we address perhaps the most consequential development of our time, the rise of artificial intelligence,” Netanyahu said. He described the technology as a potentially great engine for progress but also a threat that could ultimately subjugate humanity if not addressed properly.

“The world’s leading nations, however competitive, must address these dangers,” Netanyahu said. “We must do so quickly. And we must do so together. We must ensure that the promise of an AI utopia does not turn into an AI dystopia.”

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