Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah criticized Saudi Arabia on Thursday night for an apparent warming of ties with Israel, accusing it of “normalizing for free, without receiving anything in return.”
Nasrallah, whose Shiite terror group is closely allied with Saudi rival Iran, said in a speech that “It seems the future of Palestine and the fate of its children have become a trivial matter for some Arab states recently.”
He warned that recent public meetings between Saudis and Israelis — including a recent visit to Israel by a former Saudi general and a joint appearance of the kingdom’s prince and Jerusalem’s former national security adviser — were giving “a problematic and dangerous example” to other Arab nations.
Israel, he said, had effectively ceased to be an enemy for many Arab states, and Palestine had become an issue “that is touched on only as a cursory matter.”
Nasrallah accused Riyadh of having long-held clandestine ties with Israel, but was aghast at the change “from secret channels to public channels.”
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the recent visit to Israel by a delegation of Saudis, including retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki, saying the rare public engagement “does not reflect the views of the Saudi government.”
But Nasrallah rejected the notion that the visit was unsanctioned.
“It couldn’t have taken place without the agreement of the Saudi government. We know how things work there. In Saudi Arabia a person will be lashed for so much as tweeting,” he said.
The Hezbollah leader expressed his belief that Riyadh was “testing the waters,” and warned that it could even soon recognize the Jewish state.
“Where are the Palestinians? They are being renounced for interests. That principle has been sold out,” he lamented.
The recent visit to Israel was made by Eshki and a group of Saudi academics and businessmen. While in Jerusalem, Eshki met with a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official and a group of Knesset members. The meetings 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.
But Eshki 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,” he stressed.
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.
Eshki has met with the Foreign Ministry’s Gold before. In 2015 the two shared a stage and shook hands in Washington as they made back-to-back addresses to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank. Both espoused Israeli-Saudi peace and identified Iran as the chief threat to regional stability.
Eshki also told Israel’s Channel 10 News at the time that he and Gold had sat down together “to call for peace in the Middle East.” He said “Saudis and Israelis could work together when Israel announces that it accepts the Arab Initiative.”
AP contributed to this report.