Foreign Ministry pooh-poohs Lapid plan for regional Gaza conference

Foreign Ministry pooh-poohs Lapid plan for regional Gaza conference

Senior official says even latest ‘Transformers' movie is more realistic than finance minister's planned powwow with Saudi Arabia

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, November 5, 2013 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, November 5, 2013 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s plan to hold a regional conference with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to discuss the future of Gaza is utterly unrealistic, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

In an unusually harsh response to Lapid’s latest diplomatic initiative, announced Monday, the senior official said that Saudi or Tunisian officials would never agree to participate in such a conference, despite some Arab countries’ unspoken approval of Operation Protective Edge.

“It’s pure science fiction. No, there’s no science in it. It’s pure fantasy,” the senior official told The Times of Israel, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Not just that it’s not going to happen, it cannot possibly happen in any real-world scenario. It’s not even remotely reminiscent of reality.

“Even the latest ‘Transformers’ movie is more rooted in real life than this proposition,” he added, referring to the popular toy-cum-Hollywood franchise about robots from outer space that turn into cars.

Saudi officials “would rather die” than be seen in public with their Israeli counterparts, the official said.

Mocking Lapid’s ostensible naivete, he added: “I suggest that he starts picking up the phone and calling his colleagues in the aforementioned countries and starts making the arrangements.”

A source close to Lapid said he had no intention of responding to an anonymous official.

“As a member of the security cabinet and head of one of the largest parties in Knesset, Yair Lapid’s role is to create a framework which will provide security to the citizens of Israel, particularly in the South,” the source said.

On Monday, Lapid announced plans for a “diplomatic initiative” aimed to boost efforts to “demilitarize Gaza and the transfer of authority in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority while maintaining Israel’s strategic security interest.” According to the plan, Egypt would host a conference attended by the United States, the European Union, Russia, Jordan, the PA, Israel, “moderate Arab states including Saudi Arabia” and the Gulf states.

“The initiative also calls for the involvement of states which will provide economic support for the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and the creation of projects which will lead to long term economic cooperation in the region,” according to a press release Lapid’s media adviser issued Monday.

One part of the conference will deal with the “creation of economic ties between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world,” the statement reads. It would include several Western countries, the UN, the World Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

The senior Foreign Ministry official scoffed about the prospect of Riyadh and Tunis sending delegates to a conference attended by representatives from Jerusalem. “Doesn’t anyone know that Tunisia is not a moderate country anymore? Doesn’t anyone know that the Saudis would rather die in battle 120 times than be seen in public with Israel? The Saudis will never, ever be seen in public with any Israeli official.”

Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud (center) and Amos Yadlin (left) speak May 26 in Brussels, with David Ignatius at right (photo credit: JTA)
Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud (center) and Amos Yadlin (left) speak May 26 in Brussels, with journalist David Ignatius at right (photo credit: JTA)

The fact that Israel, Saudi Arabia and other so-called moderate countries in the region have common interests and clandestinely cooperate on intelligence and security issues is one of the Middle East’s worst-kept secrets. Sunni governments in particular are widely believed to support Operation Protective Edge, tacitly encouraging Israel to deal a harsh blow to Hamas, a terrorist organization they see as a threat to their own rule.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed “the unique link which has been forged with the states of the region” as a “very important asset” for Israel that “will open new possibilities” as soon as the fighting ceases.

In May, Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, the country’s former director of General Intelligence, publicly discussed regional issues with Maj. Gen. (res) Amos Yadlin, a former commander of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate. During the unusual meeting, the prince politely turned down Yadlin’s invitation to visit Israel.

In April, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab countries had quiet contacts with Israel and that they would be publicized within a year and a half. Saudi and Kuwaiti officials swiftly denied Liberman’s claim.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Lapid’s initiative, which is set to be discussed at the upcoming cabinet meeting.

read more: