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Saudi FM pushes Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, nixes imminent normalization

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud says kingdom focused on bringing the sides back to the negotiating table: ‘All other things will follow from that’

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the State Department, October 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Manuel Balce CENETA / POOL / AFP)
Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the State Department, October 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Manuel Balce CENETA / POOL / AFP)

Saudia Arabia’s top diplomat on Thursday called for direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, while again suggesting the kingdom won’t normalize ties with the Jewish state until the decades-old conflict is resolved.

In an interview with a US-based think tank, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud underlined the kingdom’s support for the Arab Peace Initiative, which sees a Palestinian state as a prerequisite to rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world.

“We welcome the recent efforts to bring the parties together towards a comprehensive peace plan because an important step for a secure… Middle East remains a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. All other things will follow from that,” the Saudi foreign minister told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“I believe that the focus now needs to be on getting the Palestinians and the Israelis back to the negotiating table. In the end, the only thing that can deliver lasting peace and lasting stability is an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. If we don’t manage to achieve that, we will continue to have that festering wound in the region.”

Invoking the 2002 Saudi-led peace initiative, the foreign minister added: “We always envisioned that normalization would happen but we also need to have a Palestinian state and we need to have a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan.”

Saudi leaders, including Al Saud, have previously ruled out forging ties with Israel before a Palestinian state was created, even as they welcomed the normalization deals between the Jewish state and Gulf Arab states signed in Washington last month.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday encouraged Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel.

“We hope Saudi Arabia will consider normalizing its relationships as well. We want to thank them for the assistance they’ve had in the success of the Abraham Accords so far,” said Pompeo, while hosting Al Saud in Washington.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, listens to Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud during their meeting at the State Department, October 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Manuel Balce CENATA / POOL / AFP)

When the White House announced in August the United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to establish full diplomatic ties — a move matched by Bahrain weeks later — Saudi Arabia refrained from criticizing the deal or hosting summits condemning the decision, despite Palestinian requests to do so. The Palestinians have slammed the agreements as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause,” but government-controlled Saudi media hailed them as historic and good for regional peace.

The kingdom also approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh. Kushner has been pushing Arab states to normalize ties with Israel.

(L-R) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up the documents they signed at the Abraham Accords ceremony where Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognized Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

Kushner has said that Israel could eventually enjoy fully normalized relations with Saudi Arabia.

“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.

Covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia are believed to have been growing 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.

Some Saudi officials have also stepped up criticism of the Palestinians.

In a recent interview, the former Saudi ambassador to the US and former intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan called Palestinian leaders “failures” who squandered opportunities for peace over decades.

“The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures. The Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates are successful. That sums up the events of the last 70 or 75 years,” bin Sultan said.

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