Minister calls on Riyadh to invite Netanyahu for peace talks

Minister calls on Riyadh to invite Netanyahu for peace talks

Yisrael Katz proposes intel, security ties with Gulf states in exchange for ‘normalized’ relations, says Jerusalem would host new Saudi crown prince

Intelligence and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference, June 21, 2017. (Hagai Frid/Herzliya Conference)
Intelligence and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference, June 21, 2017. (Hagai Frid/Herzliya Conference)

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) called for establishing full economic and security ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states while proposing visits between the countries’ leaders Thursday.

Katz suggested that Riyadh invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an official visit to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Jerusalem reciprocate with an invitation to the kingdom’s newly appointed crown prince.

Speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference on Wednesday, which gathers Israeli politicians, journalists and analysts as well as diplomatic guests from abroad, Katz said cooperation with the Gulf states on matters of security would be in exchange for normalized ties with moderate Sunni states while “Palestinian and Israeli negotiations [for peace] could continue in parallel.”

While Israel has long called for normalized relations with Arab countries, they have always insisted that any normalization could only come after Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement.

Israel, said Katz, “should propose security and intelligence collaboration to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in order to stop Iran and its allies, in exchange for gradual normalization,” he said.

He also called on Gulf states to “take steps to promote economic peace with Israel” and to “take true steps to initiate a process like [slain Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat did.”

Sadat visited Jerusalem in 1977, launching a process that would see him sign a peace agreement with Israel two years later. Israel has a peace agreement with one other Arab country, Jordan, signed in 1994.

In recent years, Israel has reportedly maintained covert ties with some Gulf states, forged amid shared concerns over the rise of Iran. Israel and these states vociferously opposed the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran, the US and other leading countries, warning that the accord merely emboldens the Islamic Republic.

Katz said that full, open diplomatic ties with moderate Sunni states would help Israel advance peace with the Palestinians, arguing that such relations “would embolden the Israeli public to support the peace process.”

“It is possible to advance steps toward gradual normalization [with Arab states] alongside negotiations without pre-conditions between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking at the same conference on Thursday, said regional cooperation must be a prerequisite for a final agreement with the Palestinians, adding that ties with moderate Sunni states, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, would generate $45 billion a year in trade.

Katz also suggested Riyadh to invite Netanyahu for talks.

“I call on Saudi King Salman, to invite the prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Saudi Arabia for peace talks,” he said, adding that the monarch could “send your heir, the new one, Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He’s a dynamic person. He is an initiator. And he wants to break through.”

Salman on Wednesday appointed his 31-year-old son as crown prince, placing him firmly as next in line to the throne.

“You can send him for a meeting in Israel and I promise you, he’s going to be a very welcome guest,” Katz was quoted as saying.

The appointment of the new prince was welcomed by Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, who said he hoped the change would accelerate the kingdom’s rapprochement with Israel.

“Salman’s appointment means more economic cooperation in the Middle East, and not just regarding oil,” Kara said in a statement. “The strengthening of relations with the Trump administration is the beginning of a new and optimistic time between Saudi Arabia and regional states, including Israel and the Jewish people.”

Kara’s remarks were the first response by an Israeli official following the shakeup in the Saudi royal family earlier in the day.

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