Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator to the Palestinians, received public praise from a high-ranking Saudi official over the weekend in a rare instance of Israeli and Saudi officials interacting in the international spotlight.
The two countries do not have formal relations.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, during a Friday panel discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, former director of Saudi intelligence and a former ambassador to the US, told Livni warmly that he understood “why you are the negotiator for Israel.”
The prince’s comments, made from the audience, came after Livni remarked to her counterpart, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, that security arrangements in the West Bank must ensure that “Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] not become a copy of Gaza.”
“I wish you could sit with me on stage and talk about it,” Livni said in response to al-Saud’s comments, but the prince did not respond. He was later reportedly seen sitting next to, and in discussion with, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.
Al-Saud is a strong backer of the Arab Peace Initiative and has been critical in the past of Israel’s cool response to the proposal. In 2010, at the same Munich conference, he had a public row with then-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon over Saudi donations to the Palestinian government. The two men later publicly apologized and shook hands.
Although Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal relations, both are staunch allies of the US and are deeply opposed to the Iranian regime’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons technology and growing influence in the region. In recent years, numerous media reports have surfaced alleging back-channel communications between the two countries.