A former senior adviser to the Saudi Arabian government said in an editorial published Monday that the kingdom would not normalize ties with Israel until a peace agreement is reached that establishes an independent Palestinian state.
Nawaf Obaid’s editorial, published in the Palestinian Al Quds newspaper one day before Israelis go to the polls, was seen by analysts as an open message to Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials have recently indicated that Riyadh is on its way to normalizing relations with Israel.
Obaid, who said the views he was expressing were those held by the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, asserted that Saudi Arabia would see normalization as a way to pressure Israel on behalf of the Palestinians and that current Israeli policies showed it was therefore not an option.
Obaid noted the Saudi public largely holds by King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s declaration that Saudi Arabia will be the last Muslim country to recognize Israel.
He said Saudi authorities were also very aware that violent extremist elements would see normalization with Israel as an abandonment of Islamic values, and were therefore being “very careful” about any potential decision that could create division among their people. Though “the door to normalization is open,” he said, such an agreement was almost impossible in the current climate of Saudi public opinion.
The Kan public broadcaster assessed that though Nawaf is no longer an official adviser, he is still close enough to the royal family that he would not have published the piece without permission, making his views also a form of a public message to Israel. Obaid was an adviser to the government from 2002 till 2015.
The op-ed came as a Qatari official also denied that his country has any plan to normalize ties with Israel, echoing Saudi Arabia and countering claims by Israeli officials that there progress was being made toward open and public relations.
The Qatari official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Bloomberg news agency Sunday that his country takes the same view as that expressed by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who a day earlier said the kingdom would only normalize ties with Israel after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Al-Jubeir told the Arab News website that “we want a two-state solution based on the Arab Peace Initiative and the relevant United Nations resolutions where we have a Palestinian state and living side by side in peace and security. That remains our position.”
“But as far as the Kingdom is concerned, our position remains that normalization can only come if there’s an agreement on peace,” Al-Jubeir said.
Nevertheless, on Sunday Netanyahu played up warming ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh ahead of Tuesday’s election.
“We will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca,” he claimed in an interview with Army Radio.
Last week Netanyahu told the Ynet website that there were “four more peace agreements” on the way, after Israel last year reached normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirate, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Netanyahu did not name the countries but later the same day Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Radio 100FM that the countries nearest to signing deals were Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and Niger.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but clandestine ties have strengthened in recent years as the two countries have confronted a shared threat in Iran. Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia in November to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The prime minister has made recent improvements in ties with Arab states a key plank of his election campaign and had tried to squeeze in a visit to the UAE last week, which was called off after a dispute with Jordan over using its airspace to fly to Abu Dhabi.
However, Emirati officials bristled at what they saw as the premier’s attempted use of Abu Dhabi as a stop on the campaign trail.
Last week a UAE official said to CNN the normalization deal between the two countries was not made for the benefit of an individual leader, while an adviser to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed tweeted, “The UAE will not be a part in any internal electioneering in Israel, now or ever.”
Agencies contributed to this report.