Prince Turki al-Faisal, youngest son of the late King Faisal and former legendary head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate for 24 years, said Monday he would have liked to visit Jerusalem, as suggested to him by a former Israeli intelligence chief, but he will not address the Knesset without Israeli acceptance of the Saudi peace plan, which was first issued in 2002.
The exchange between Faisal and Maj. Gen. (res) Amos Yadlin, a former commander of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, took place in Belgium, at the offices of the General Marshall Fund and was mediated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. It is highly unusual for prominent Saudi figures to meet publicly with Israeli officials.
After discussing the failure to achieve peace in the 12 years that have passed since King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia first proposed the peace plan, Yadlin, submitting that 74 percent of Israelis are not aware of the offer, suggested that the two countries instead look to the future. “My suggestion is for His Highness to come to Jerusalem, to pray at the mosques, which are for all practical purposes controlled by the Muslim leadership of Jordan and Palestine, and then [take] a very short drive to the Knesset and speak to the Israeli people,” he said.
Doing so, he asserted, would convince 65 percent of the Israeli public to accept the plan, which calls for normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab states in exchange for a complete withdrawal from pre-1967 lands and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee crisis.
“Yeah, absolutely not,” the prince said to laughs. “And the general knows that.”
“To be serious, you have to negotiate with good heart and with genuine commitment to achieve peace. Not to use emotions as a means of influencing or attempting to divert attention from the important issue,” Faisal said.
Instead, he said, it was incumbent on the Israeli leadership to sell its public on the comprehensive peace deal. Coming to Jerusalem before such a comprehensive peace has been achieved, he said, was “putting the chicken before the egg.”
Yadlin, the head of the INSS think tank in Tel Aviv, suggested that Egyptian president Anwar Sadat had done just that and said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to visit “Jeddah or Riyadh tomorrow.”
The two men, clearly comfortable with one another, agreed to disagree on this, as well as, at least publicly, on Iran.
Faisal, asserting that Israel has many means of delivering nuclear weapons, some of which he said Yadlin had built as a senior IAF commander, called for the establishment of a nuclear-free Middle East. Ironically, he said, this suggestion was first put forth by the shah of Iran in 1974.
Yadlin, switching metaphors, said this was placing the cart before the horse. Speaking of Iranian threats and insinuations about the need to annihilate Israel, he said that for a people that had been through an unprovoked genocide 70 years ago, there had to be recognition and peace first, and only then, perhaps, the establishment of such a zone.
He added that in his assessment no deal would be reached between the six world powers and Iran by the July 20 deadline but rather only six months after that. Furthermore, he said, he believes that no matter what deal is reached, at some point, Iran would seek to violate the agreement, and therefore it was of utmost importance to Israel to ensure that the deal keeps Iran years, and not months, from the bomb.
Faisal, in his closing remarks, circled back to Yadlin’s invitation to Jerusalem. “I have a selfish reason for wanting the Arab Peace Initiative to succeed,” he said. “And that is to fulfill the wish of my late father before he died to pray again at the mosque in Jerusalem.”
In addition, he said, he would like to see the tombs of Abraham and other prophets, would like to walk in the footsteps of Salah a-Din, who took Jerusalem back from the Crusaders, and would like to taste oranges from Jaffa, which are widely considered “to be the best in the region,” he said.
Yadlin, asked if he thought peace was possible in his lifetime, said that “at the end of the day we will reach peace.”
“You, the Europeans, should look at yourselves,” the ex-intelligence chief continued. “For a thousand years you have killed each other with all of the methods in the world. Catholics against Protestants. Germans against French. Brits against whoever… and look at you today. You embrace each other. You don’t want to go to any military hostilities. So if you have achieved it… I do believe that there will be peace. It’s tough. You need leadership. But I do believe that we will achieve it.”