A retired Saudi general who visited Israel last week and met Israeli officials as head of a delegation of academics and businessmen, denied Tuesday that the trip was part of efforts to normalize ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh.
Dr. Anwar Eshki told the Israeli Arabic radio station Radio Shams that he came to Israel after being invited to the West Bank city of Ramallah by the Palestinian Authority. The visit, which included meetings with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and several MKs, was not an official trip, he said.
“My visit was not coordinated with the Saudi royal house and I did not receive a green light from Saudi Arabia,” he told Al-Shams, according to Haaretz. “I came on my own behalf and that of the research institute. However, there were those who tried to exploit the visit and its timing in order to attack Saudi Arabia. In Israel, too, they exploited the visit to report on closer [relations] and normalization.”
The general also rejected reports he was in Israel to discuss modifying the Arab Peace Initiative, which was initially created by Riyadh in 2002, and formerly known as the Saudi Peace Initiative.
“There will be no change in the Saudi position or the Saudi Initiative, and Israel must accept it in full, in return for normalization with Arab nations,” he said.
Eshki’s comments came after Hamas, responding to the visit, asked the Saudi government to prevent “normalization” visits to Israel.
In a statement on its website, Hamas, an Islamist terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, called on Saudi Arabia to “take measures to prevent these normalizing visits that [Israel] uses to undermine the rights of Palestinians and penetrate into the [Muslim] nation in thought and culture.”
Saudi Arabia and Israel have no official relations; the kingdom prohibits its citizens from traveling to Israel, nor does it grant visas to Israelis wishing to enter its territory. The meetings with Gold and Mordechai reportedly did not take place at official Israeli government facilities, but at the King David Hotel.
In recent months there have been various media reports of clandestine talks between Israel and Arab powers, who have come to see the Jewish state as a possible ally against what they consider to be a far greater threat — Iran and its regional aspirations.
In 2015 Eshki and Gold shared a stage and shook hands in Washington as they made back-to-back addresses to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank. Both espoused Israeli-Saudi peace and identified Iran as the chief threat to regional stability.