Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Riyadh will not normalize relations with Israel before an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is reached, in the kingdom’s first official statement since Thursday’s deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was announced.
“When we launched the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, we fully envisioned that there would be relations between all Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, and Israel. But from our perspective, the conditions for that are clear: Peace must be achieved between the Israelis and the Palestinians, on the basis of international parameters. Once this goal is achieved, anything is possible,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud said at a press conference in Berlin with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas.
Since 2002, Saudi Arabia has sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative, which states that normalization with Israel will come only if Jerusalem and Ramallah can come to a lasting accord and establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.
The United Arab Emirates is also a signatory to the Arab Peace Initiative, and its declared agreement to normalize ties without a Palestinian state would contravene it. Emirati officials have said that their agreement to normalize ties with Israel was aimed to stop Israeli annexation of Palestinian-claimed territory.
In cautious support for the agreement, however, al-Saud also lauded “actions to suspend unilateral Israeli actions” and said the deal “could be viewed as positive.”
The agreement has been hailed by Egypt, with which Israel also has a peace treaty, as well as Bahrain and Oman. The Palestinian Authority called the accord “a despicable treaty” and “a stab in the back.”
Al-Saud also said Israel’s settlement activities were damaging chances for peace.
“We consider any unilateral Israeli measure taken to annex Palestinian territories or to build settlements as illegitimate and detrimental to the two-state solution, and any efforts to suspend those unilateral moves are appreciated,” he said.
While Israel has said it will suspend its annexation initiative as part of normalizing ties with the UAE, major infrastructure projects in the E-1 corridor close to Jerusalem are still being advanced, which could hinder the creation of a Palestinian state, according to the Ir Amim nonprofit.
Saudi Arabia did not immediately comment on the normalization agreement when it was announced on Thursday, although former Saudi information minister Adel al-Toraifi expressed his support for the deal that same night, calling it “a historic decision.”
“It’s time for [Gulf] states to move beyond the destructive discourse of false Arab Nationalism and Terrorist Islamists. [Gulf] states should urge Palestinians to drop Hamas’s terrorism & seek a modern state,” al-Toraifi wrote on Twitter.
US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner said that Israel could eventually enjoy fully normalized relations with Saudi Arabia, after some other Gulf States brought their own ties with Israel out into the open.
“I do think we have other countries that are very interested in moving forward [with Israel] and as that progresses I do think that it’s an inevitability that Saudi Arabia and Israel will have fully normalized relations and they’ll be able to do a lot of great things together,” Kushner said on Friday.
Covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been increasing in recent years. The shift in policy has reportedly been led by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who sees Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence in the region.
Bin Salman also sees Israel as an essential component of his domestic agenda — expanding cyber surveillance at home and abroad, as well as building a new high-tech futuristic “smart city” on the Red Sea.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia permitted direct flights from India to Israel to use its airspace, although Israeli national carrier El Al still cannot use Saudi airspace on its eastbound journeys.
Senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat brushed off concerns about Saudi Arabia normalizing with Israel and predicted that other Gulf States would not rush to follow in the UAE’s footsteps.
“The Gulf will never normalize with Israel. Saudi Arabia will never normalize with Israel. Saudi Arabia is the heart of the Arab and Islamic world. Saudi Arabia sees its security as emerging from within the Arab depth, rather than from outside forces,” Erekat told The Times of Israel.