At a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman castigated the Palestinian leadership for rejecting opportunities for peace with Israel for decades, and said they should either start accepting peace proposals or “shut up.”
Citing what it said were multiple sources, Israel’s Channel 10 News on Sunday night quoted what it said were remarks made by the crown prince at the meeting that left those who were present “staggered” by the ferocity of his criticism of the Palestinians.
“For the past 40 years, the Palestinian leadership has missed opportunities again and again, and rejected all the offers it was given,” the Saudi leader reportedly said.
“It’s about time that the Palestinians accept the offers, and agree to come to the negotiating table — or they should shut up and stop complaining,” he reportedly went on.
Prince Salman also told the US Jewish leaders that “the Palestinian issue is not at the top of the Saudi government’s agenda” and elaborated, “There are much more urgent and more important issues to deal with — such as Iran,” according to the TV report.
Nonetheless, the crown prince reportedly stressed that there would have to substantive progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian accord before the Saudis and other Arab states would deepen their relationships with Israel. “There needs to be significant progress toward an agreement with the Palestinians before it will be possible to advance negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Arab world and Israel,” he was quoted saying.
The TV report dated the meeting to March 27, during the prince’s extensive visit to the US. It did not name those present. The Saudi Embassy said that the crown prince was to have met that week with Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. That meeting, however, which also included Christian leaders, took place on March 28.
The TV report was based on a cable to the Foreign Ministry from an Israeli diplomat in the New York consulate, who was briefed on the meeting by those present, and three other sources who were familiar with the content of the meeting. One of those present told the TV channel that the group was staggered by what the prince had to say, and all but fell off their chairs.
A number of news reports, including by The New York Times and Reuters, have claimed in recent months that the Saudi crown prince has pressured Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept a much-anticipated Trump administration peace proposal.
After he met with Jewish and Christian leaders on March 28, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the meeting “emphasized the common bond among all people, particularly people of faith, which stresses the importance of tolerance, coexistence, and working together for a better future for all of humanity.”
A statement from the embassy added that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always, and will continue to champion expanding dialogue, building a better understanding among the faiths, and focusing on the shared humanity of all peoples.”
No specific details of what the faith leaders and crown prince spoke about were released.
In an interview published a few days later, the crown prince recognized Israel’s right to exist and extolled the prospect of future diplomatic relations between his kingdom and the Jewish state.
In an extensive interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the prince laid out his vision for the future of the Middle East, including the possibility of cooperation with Israel.
Asked whether he believes “the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland,” he replied: “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”
However, in keeping with the terms of his kingdom’s regional peace proposal, the Saudi crown prince added that an agreement with the Palestinians was a prerequisite to formal relations. “But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations,” he said.
Did he have “no religious-based objection to the existence of Israel?” he was further asked. To which the crown prince replied: “We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people. This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people.”
Asked about anti-Semitism in Saudi Arabia, he said: “Our country doesn’t have a problem with Jews. Our Prophet Muhammad married a Jewish woman. Not just a friend — he married her. Our prophet, his neighbors were Jewish. You will find a lot of Jews in Saudi Arabia coming from America, coming from Europe. There are no problems between Christian and Muslims and Jews. We have problems like you would find anywhere in the world, among some people. But the normal sort of problems.”
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations and the kingdom does not recognize the Jewish state. Israel has hinted at clandestine ties with Saudi Arabia in recent years, stressing the two countries share an interest in countering Iran. The rumors of covert relations have been denied by Saudi officials. Still, a Saudi general visited Jerusalem in 2016 and met with Israeli lawmakers, and Saudi officials have met with Israeli officials on several occasions in public. Saudi Arabia also allowed Air India to fly to and from Tel Aviv via its airspace, last month.
Discussing whether a shared concern over Iran was bringing Israel and Saudi Arabia together, he said: “Israel is a big economy compared to their size and it’s a growing economy, and of course, there are a lot of interests we share with Israel, and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and countries like Egypt and Jordan.”
Salman also discussed the threat to the Middle East he said was posed by Iran, even saying that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, “makes Hitler look good.”
“Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. This is bad,” he explained. “But the supreme leader is trying to conquer the world. He believes he owns the world. They are both evil guys. He is the Hitler of the Middle East. In the 1920s and 1930s, no one saw Hitler as a danger. Only a few people. Until it happened. We don’t want to see what happened in Europe happen in the Middle East. We want to stop this through political moves, economic moves, intelligence moves. We want to avoid war.”
Shortly afterwards, Saudi King Salman reaffirmed his nation’s support for the Palestinians in a conversation with US President Donald Trump.
The king “reaffirmed the kingdom’s steadfast position toward the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.