Report: MBS mulling public Netanyahu meeting to counter Khashoggi fallout
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Report: MBS mulling public Netanyahu meeting to counter Khashoggi fallout

Unnamed sources tell Middle East Eye website Saudi task force is considering ‘major stunt’ to help rehabilitate crown prince’s international image

In this October 24, 2018 photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addresses the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency via AP, File)
In this October 24, 2018 photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman addresses the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency via AP, File)

Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad bin Salman is considering a Camp David-style meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, a London-based website claimed, in what it said would be a grand diplomatic gesture intended to help rehabilitate the crown prince’s image in the wake of the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khasoggi.

According to the Qatari-funded Middle East Eye website, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader is “seriously considering” pursuing a “game changing” summit with the Israeli and US leaders.

The report quoted unnamed Saudi sources and could not be independently confirmed.

The plan for a meeting with Netanyahu would purportedly include a public handshake modeled on the handshake between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat following the signing of the peace agreement at Camp David under the auspices of US President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

An emergency task-force has reportedly been set up to explore ways to deflect growing criticism of the crown prince, who is widely believed to have ordered Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

According to Middle East Eye, MBS hopes a public meeting with Netanyahu could help reframe him as a Middle East peace maker and paper over international criticism. He particularly seeks to stave off any action by the US Congress, a danger that will grow when Democrats take control of the House in January.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on December 10, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

In two motions on Friday, the Republican-controlled US Senate delivered an unusual rebuke of Trump’s response to the death of Khashoggi and signaled new skepticism from Capitol Hill toward the longtime Middle East ally. One measure recommended that the US end its assistance to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen. The other put the blame for the death of Khashoggi squarely on bin Salman. Both had been vigorously opposed by the Trump administration.

“MBS asked his task force to study this proposal and he hinted that he liked the idea,” an unnamed Saudi official told Middle East Eye.

“The task force agreed that without a major stunt, there is a real danger of a series of decisions from Congress that would fundamentally set back the Saudi-US relationship, which is key for the crown prince,” he said.

In this image made from a March 2018 video provided by Metafora Production, Jamal Khashoggi speaks during an interview at an undisclosed location. (Metafora Production via AP)

US intelligence officials concluded that bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but Trump has repeatedly praised the kingdom.

The journalist, who had lived in the US and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what US officials have described as an elaborate plot when he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.

Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Khashoggi and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate.

US President Donald Trump speaks at the 2018 Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, on December 7, 2018. (Jim WATSON / AFP)

Trump has been reluctant to condemn the crown prince. He said the United States “intends to remain a steadfast partner” of the country, touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the US and thanked the Saudis for plunging oil prices.

Netanyahu on Wednesday appeared to defend Israel’s tacit support of Saudi Arabia in the face of growing criticism of the murder of the Saudi journalist.

While he described Khashoggi’s brutal October 2 murder at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate as “horrific,” he stressed that the gulf state’s stability was crucial for global stability.

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.

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