Arab MKs condemn Netanyahu’s Saudi visit, warn it could spark war

Joint List lawmakers, who also opposed normalization with UAE and Bahrain, claim Trump and PM have ‘nothing to lose’; Hamas demands explanation from Riyadh

Palestinians prepare to set fire to an Israeli flag and portraits of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest at the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, April 13, 2018. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Palestinians prepare to set fire to an Israeli flag and portraits of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest at the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, April 13, 2018. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Arab Israeli lawmakers on Monday condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported trip to Saudi Arabia where he met with its crown prince, alleging that it could spark a regional war in the final days of the Trump administration.

The reported visit by Netanyahu and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to the Red Sea city of Neom for a summit also attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also denounced by the Hamas terrorist group, while the Palestinian Authority did not immediately comment.

“Netanyahu and his partners in the outgoing Trump administration, along with the leaders of Gulf states, understand they’re living on borrowed time and are trying to take advantage of the months that are left until Trump leaves to stir up a war,” said Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman.

“Netanyahu, the Trump administration and bin Salman are apparently trying to set the region on fire and put spokes in the wheel… [of] the return to the [Iran] nuclear deal and are likely to devolve the region into an escalation [of hostilities] and war,” she added.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint (Arab) List at the party’s Hebrew-language campaign launch in Tel Aviv, August 20, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

“The explosions we’ve seen a few days ago are only the beginning of the next two dangerous months,” the lawmaker said, apparently referring to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria.

MK Ofer Cassif, also of the Joint List, also said the next months would prove “very dangerous” for the region, until US President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

“Trump and Netanyahu have nothing to lose and both of them have always disregarded human life,” he claimed. “They will continue to try and put heinous facts on the ground, such as deepening the occupation and provoking Iran, and all this only for their benefit and at our expense, meaning in blood.”

Arab Israeli lawmakers have also fiercely opposed Israel’s normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain and voted against them in parliament, arguing that the establishment of a Palestinian state must precede the rapprochement between Israel and Arab states.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri on Monday demanded an explanation from Saudi Arabia, calling the alleged visit “an insult to the nation and an invitation to attack Palestinian rights.”

Netanyahu traveled to Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an Israeli official told Hebrew media on Monday. Netanyahu was on the ground in Neom, a Red Sea city, for three hours for the first known high-level meeting between an Israeli and Saudi leader. He was accompanied by Mossad intelligence chief Cohen, according to the reports.

US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid, left, and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, second from left, greet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan as they arrive at Neom Bay Airport in Neom, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

There was no confirmation of the reports from Israel, the US or Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabian media also did not report on the visit.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that the talks focused on Iran and the incoming Biden administration.

A trip by the Israeli leader to Saudi Arabia would mark a watershed moment in shifting Gulf ties with Israel, which have been bolstered in recent months at the urging of the Trump administration.

Netanyahu in May 2019 made a secret visit to Oman, another Gulf country with which Israel does not have diplomatic ties.

Covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia are believed to have been growing in recent years. The shift in policy has reportedly been led by the crown prince, who sees Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence in the region.

The Trump administration has hoped Saudi Arabia would join the UAE and Bahrain in recognizing Israel and forging diplomatic ties, a move seen as increasingly distant in the wake of Joe Biden’s election as US president. But Saudi leaders have hitherto indicated that Israeli-Palestinian peace will have to come first.

“We have supported normalization with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on Sunday.

In late October, when US President Donald Trump announced that Israel and Sudan would be making peace, he predicted that Saudi Arabia would soon follow. During a call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudan Sovereign Council president General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Trump brought reporters into the Oval Office, announced that “The State of Israel and the Republic of Sudan have agreed to make peace,” and told reporters there were another five countries “that want to come in.”

“We expect Saudi Arabia will be one of those countries,” Trump added, as he praised the country’s “highly respected” rulers King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In this May 20, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump (right) shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

When the White House announced in August that the United Arab Emirates and Israel had agreed to establish full diplomatic ties — a move matched by Bahrain weeks later — Saudi Arabia refrained from criticizing the deal or hosting summits condemning the decision, despite Palestinian requests to do so. The Palestinians have slammed the agreements as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause,” but government-controlled Saudi media hailed them as historic and good for regional peace.

The kingdom also approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with the crown prince in Riyadh. Kushner has been pushing Arab states to normalize ties with Israel and has said that the Jewish state could eventually enjoy fully normalized relations with Saudi Arabia.

The outgoing US administration and Israel are also seeking to step up pressure on Iran in the final days of the Trump White House.

Trump has yet to concede to Biden.

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