Netanyahu rejected secret Saudi peace plan after 2014 Gaza war — report

Officials say Israeli PM showed no flexibility regarding proposal, which would have seen joint Riyadh-Jerusalem effort against Iran and Saudi assistance in rehabilitating Strip

US President Barack Obama meets with Saudi King Abdullah at Rawdat Khuraim, Saudi Arabia, Friday, March 28, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama meets with Saudi King Abdullah at Rawdat Khuraim, Saudi Arabia, Friday, March 28, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a secret proposal from Saudi Arabia to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal at the end of the 2014 Gaza war, according to a report Tuesday.

The rejection led to a deep rift between Jerusalem and Riyadh that lasted until the death of King Abdullah in 2015, according to the report carried by Israel’s Channel 13 news.

The report came as Saudi King Salman met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and pledged support for the Palestinian cause.

Israeli and Saudi sources familiar with the proposal told the TV station that on the final day of Operation Protective Edge in August 2014, Riyadh put forward a three-pronged proposition to Jerusalem, which included Saudi assistance in the rehabilitation of the recently devastated Gaza Strip, the restarting of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and a joint Israel-Saudi front against Iran.

The plan was described as an “upgraded version of the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Under that plan, which was first proposed by Riyadh in 2002 and has since been endorsed by the entire Muslim world, all Arab and Islamic states would establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel after the successful conclusion of the peace process with the Palestinians.

According to the report, King Abdullah’s special envoy, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and another top official met with Netanyahu in an unnamed third country, and proposed the two countries jointly announce the peace initiative at the UN general assembly later that month.

Netanyahu was initially enthusiastic about the proposal and he and Bandar began preparing for the UN summit.

In the weeks that followed, Netanyahu and Bandar’s aides met to draft a joint document hashing out the details of the proposal, with each side putting forth their demands.

Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan at his palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2008 (AP/Hassan Ammar)

The Saudis agreed to most of the Israeli document, but told Netanyahu’s negotiators they “also needed to show flexibility” on some of the points, Channel 13 reported. Netanyahu refused, and the talks broke down.

Saudi officials told Channel 13 that Riyadh “went further than they have ever gone,” in the negotiations with Israel, and blamed Netanyahu for the initiative’s failure. They claimed that Bandar had felt that the prime minister had lied to the Saudi envoy.

The affair reportedly damaged relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem, which had warmed in the backdrop of both countries’ opposition over a progressing international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which they believed was too compromising toward Tehran.

Channel 13 reported that then-Mossad Director Tamir Pardo paid a secret visit to Riyadh in early 2014 where he met with Bandar to discuss the Iranian issue. In the past, Saudi officials had only been willing to meet with Israeli officials in a third country, rather than hosting them themselves.

Netanyahu has hinted for years about forging closer ties with Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, over a shared interest in opposing Iran.

Talks only recovered after Abdullah died and his brother King Salman took the throne, with Prince Mohammed Bin Salman taking the lead on negotiating with Israel, according to the report.

Responding to the report, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who was a minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet during the 2014 war, said the report proved his claims that Netanyahu was passing up opportunities for peace.

“For four years I have been arguing that Israel has had real opportunities for a diplomatic breakthrough, but that the prime minister missed them all,” he wrote on Twitter.

Prince Mohammed was absent Tuesday during a meeting between King Salman and Abbas, though the two met later, according to official Palestinian news outlet Wafa.

During the meeting, the Saudi king said his country “permanently stands by Palestine and its people’s right to an independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” reported the official Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia is one of a handful of Arab countries sending a high-level representative to a meeting in Warsaw this week expected to focus on thwarting Iran and Middle East peace.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has been putting the final touches on a “deal of the century” for the Middle East, will make a rare speaking appearance on Thursday.

Kushner is not expected to unveil the proposal until after the April 9 election in Israel.

Kushner will reportedly visit the Middle East at end of this month, during which he will make a stop in Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration faces a difficult task in selling any deal to the Palestinian Authority, which remains livid over his landmark 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem — claimed by both peoples — as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinian government, which has labelled the Warsaw conference an “American conspiracy,” has refused talks with the United States until it starts what it calls a more balanced policy.

AFP contributed to this report.

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