A retired Saudi general visiting Israel this week to promote the Arab Peace Initiative said on Sunday that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would eliminate Iran’s excuse for supporting regional terrorist groups.
Dr. Anwar Eshki, who was leading a delegation of academics and businessmen on an extremely rare visit seeking to encourage discussion of the Saudi-led peace plan, told Army Radio that normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world were contingent on the cementing of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
“There will be no peace with Arab countries before there is peace with the Palestinians,” said Eshki, whose group met with Israeli officials and MKs in Jerusalem.
“To my knowledge, there is no cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in counter-terrorism efforts, and though they share the same approach in seeking a solution, we want Israel to put an end to what has caused this terrorism.”
Asked if he believed Israel to be the source of regional terrorism, Eshki said: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the source of terrorism, but it does create fertile ground for acts of terrorism in the region.
“If the conflict is resolved, the countries that exploit the Palestinian issue, namely Iran, will no longer be able to capitalize on it,” he added, alluding to Tehran’s support for such terror groups as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, but its 2002 peace initiative promises the Jewish state full diplomatic ties with Riyadh and 56 other Arab and Muslim countries after cementing a peace accord with the Palestinians.
On Saturday, Eshki met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and several Knesset members from the opposition.
Such a visit by former general Eshki, who was once a top adviser to the Saudi government, is an extremely rare occurrence. “While this wasn’t an official visit, it was a highly unusual one, as Eshki couldn’t have traveled to Israel without approval from the Saudi government,” the Haaretz newspaper said.
There have been various media reports of clandestine talks between Israel and Arab powers, who have come to see the Jewish state as a possible ally against what they consider to be a far greater threat — Iran and its regional aspirations.
Gold told The Times of Israel recently that “by improving ties with the Arab states, we set the stage for a future breakthrough with the Palestinians.” Eshki’s comments indicated this was unlikely.
The meetings with Gold and Mordechai reportedly did not take place at official Israeli government facilities but at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Knesset members Issawi Frej and Michal Rozin (Meretz) and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), who took part in the meetings, said the Saudis were eager to generate Israeli discourse on the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Saudi delegation also toured the West Bank city of Ramallah and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as other Palestinian officials.
The Arab Peace Initiative in its current form has been rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but earlier this year he said the plan “contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Eshki’s visit comes as the Arab world, led by Egypt, is pushing for renewed peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Earlier this month Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Jerusalem, where he met with Netanyahu to discuss the long-stalled peace process. Netanyahu reportedly expressed willingness to meet with Abbas in Cairo for talks hosted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.