Foreign Ministry said to see little chance of breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties

Israeli TV quotes classified ministry document saying Riyadh won’t normalize ties with Jerusalem or back Trump peace plan without significant concessions to Palestinians

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, speaks to his father, King Salman, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, December 9, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, speaks to his father, King Salman, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, December 9, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Saudi Arabia will not normalize ties with Israel or support the Trump administration’s peace plan without significant Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, according to a classified Foreign Ministry document reported by Israeli television Friday.

Israel in recent years has worked to improve ties with Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which, despite having no diplomatic relations with Jerusalem, share a common foe in Iran.

Though Saudi Arabia has stated it will not establish ties with Jerusalem in the absence of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said improved relations with the Arab world could better the chances of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Citing an unnamed Foreign Ministry official familiar with the document, Channel 13 news reported that the memo, drawn up in mid-December, contradicts Netanyahu’s position, arguing the chances of such an “inside-out” formula resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were remote.

According to the official who spoke with Channel 13, the Foreign Ministry document, written by the ministry’s Center for Political Research, also noted that management of the Palestinian portfolio was shifted from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to King Salman, who is considered to have more hawkish stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The paper was distributed to the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Security Council, and selected ambassadors and ministry diplomats.

“It appeared there was a window of opportunity to bring about a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia, but even if there was, it is likely already closed at this point,” the official was quoted saying.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on February 3, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

Though the TV report did not say what the nature of a significant concession by Israel to the Palestinians would be, the network cited a US official saying King Salman told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January that he would not support the White House’s coming peace plan if it did not provide for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and holy sites such as the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock, from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. It claims the entire city as its undivided capital.

Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

Saudi Arabia has been the driving force behind the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal it originally introduced in 2002 that would extend diplomatic recognition by all Arab states of Israel in exchange for a pullout to the pre-1967 armistice lines and “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

Israel has never endorsed the plan but Netanyahu has said he backs the “general idea” behind it.

Last year, Netanyahu was one of the few world leaders to publicly voice support for Saudi Arabia following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s embassy in Istanbul, saying that despite the “horrific” nature of the murder, the Gulf kingdom’s stability was paramount to global security.

US intelligence is said to have determined the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing, a charge Riyadh has denied.

According to a Wall Street Journal report in December, efforts by Israel and Saudi Arabia to improve ties have been set back amid the fallout of Khashoggi’s murder.

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