LONDON — Denying recent claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding a new era in Israel’s relations with Sunni Arab states, a former top Saudi official told The Times of Israel that no Arab-Israeli cooperation can exist as long as the conflict with the Palestinians remains unresolved.
Speaking at an event hosted by King’s College London and Georgetown University titled “What should the world do about ISIS and the challenge from violent extremism?” Prince Turki al-Faisal, who served as Saudi Arabia’s chief of intelligence until 2001 and then as ambassador to the United Kingdom and the United States, said there could be no cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel “as long as Palestine is occupied by Israel.”
“Tell Mr. Netanyahu not to propagate false information,” Faisal told The Times of Israel at the Thursday panel session, when asked to address Netanyahu’s reference to a “sea change” in Israel’s relations with Sunni Arab states following the rise in Islamist radicalism in neighboring Arab countries.
“As long as Palestine is occupied by Israel, there’s not going to be cooperation between Saudi Arabia or Sunni states with Israel. That [the Palestinian issue] is the primary issue for all of us in our relationship with Israel,” he said.
Faisal said he was irked by Netanyahu’s very use of the term “Sunni states,” as juxtaposed with Shiite Iran.
“To describe them as being Sunni states is a mistake,” he said. “Saudi Arabia has a sizable Shia minority; all the Gulf states have sizable Shia minorities.”
Faisal later told The Times of Israel that he had “no choice but to be pessimistic” with Netanyahu, who has refused to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative penned by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and endorsed by the Arab League five years later.
Saudi King Salman asked US President Barack Obama on Thursday to stop the “Israeli attacks” on Temple Mount, asking the matter to be brought to the UN Security Council “to protect the Palestinian people.” Other Arab leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Abdul Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, have publicly voiced similar concerns over the violence in and around Temple Mount.
During his presentation at King’s College, Faisal also expressed disappointment with Obama’s handling of the crisis in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, indicating that the American president lacked the “backbone” needed to deal with the deteriorating situation in the region.
“Obama has shown he wants to keep the US with a minimalist presence in the area. That’s his policy, and we cannot say anything about that other than to say we have to devise other things in order to buttress that policy,” Faisal said. “Basically what is needed is backbone to deal with a situation that has gone beyond the measure of acceptability. Over 300,000 people have been killed, 99% of them by the Assad regime and yet he continues to remain in power. That is unacceptable.”
Faisal suggested convening an international conference with representatives of the entire Syrian population, under the auspices of the Arab League and the UN, as “an alternative to the present bloody regime of Bashar al-Assad.”