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Saudi FM says ties with Israel would bring ‘tremendous benefit’ to Middle East

But Prince Faisal bin Farhan reiterates that normalization is ‘very much dependent on progress’ in Israeli-Palestinian peace process

In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, March 22, 2021. (SPA via AP)
In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Monday, March 22, 2021. (SPA via AP)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Normalization with Israel would bring “tremendous benefit” to the region, the Saudi foreign minister has said, but such an accord with the kingdom would depend on progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Under the Abraham Accords brokered by former US president Donald Trump last year, four Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — agreed to normalize ties with the Jewish state.

But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said Thursday that any deal with Saudi Arabia was “very much dependent on progress with the peace process.”

He noted that normalization had been on the table since the introduction of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative on the condition of reaching resolution with the Palestinians.

“I think normalizing Israel’s status within the region would bring tremendous benefit to the region as a whole,” he said during an interview with CNN.

“It would be extremely helpful both economically but also socially and from a security perspective.”

But such a process “can only be successful if we address the issue of the Palestinians and if we are able to deliver a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders that gives the Palestinians dignity and gives them their rights.”

Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia has repeatedly affirmed its decades-old policy of not establishing formal ties with Israel until a deal is reached to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

But mutual concern over Iran has gradually brought Israel and Gulf countries closer, and Riyadh has quietly been building relations with the Jewish state for several years.

In the first visit of its kind, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Saudi Arabia in November, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Netanyahu was on the ground in Neom, a Red Sea city, for more than three hours for the first known high-level meeting between an Israeli and Saudi leader. He was accompanied by Mossad intelligence chief Yossi Cohen, Hebrew media reports said.

News of the meeting was confirmed by Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Gallant. “I congratulate the prime minister on this amazing achievement,” Gallant said on Army Radio. “The fact that the meeting took place and was made public — even if it was in only a semiofficial way — is something of great importance.” He said it indicated the growing “warm acceptance of Israel by the Sunni world,” and that this was “something our ancestors dreamed about.”

Saudi Arabia officially denied that the meeting had taken place.

In the final weeks before the 2020 presidential elections, Trump named Saudi Arabia as likely to be among about 10 further countries normalizing relations with Israel.

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