Netanyahu: Positive Developments With 'Sons of Ishmael,' Public Not Aware

Prime minister seemingly refers to warming relations between Israel and some Arab nations, saying 'our main problems today come from another place'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in May 2018.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that there are “positive developments that the public does not always know about” involving Arab nations.  

Speaking at a bible study session hosted at his official residence, Netanyahu said: “I welcome the discussion of Ishmael today, a subject that is important to us, although our main problems today come from a different place, and it's actually from the sons of Ishmael that we have positive developments that the public doesn't always know about, and they are surprising.”  

“Sons of Ishmael” is a reference to Arabs, considered in Jewish and Islamic tradition to be the progeny of the biblical Ishmael. “The negative [development] is known, but the positive is much less known, and we are dealing with the negative but also searching for the positive,” said the prime minister.

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Diplomatic sources confirmed that he was referring to growing Israeli relations with certain Arab countries, a trend that Netanyahu has notably taken pride in. While Netanyahu did not mention them by name, he was apparently referring to Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. While Riyadh has no diplomatic relations with Israel, it recently allowed flights from India to Israel to fly in Saudi airspace.

In March, just as the weekly Gaza protests were getting underway, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with pro-Israel Jewish American leaders, where he was quoted by Axios, an online newsletter focused on Washington politics, as saying the Palestinians should accept the proposals or “shut up and stop complaining.” The prince later appeared to acknowledge Jewish claims to Israel, telling The Atlantic that Israelis “have the right to have their own land.”

According to a report by the Associated Press, that same month, Netanyahu met the UAE's ambassador to Washington, Yousef al Otaiba, during his visit to the American capital.

The report stated that during Netanyahu's three-day visit to Washington, he had dinner at a restaurant where Otaiba was also present with a group. The Emirati ambassador, considered one of the most influential foreign emissaries in Washington, was made aware of Netanyahu's presence and invited him and his wife, Sara, to join his table.

According to the report, Netanyahu joined the ambassador's table, answered some policy questions and shook hands with Otaiba before departing.