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Saudi royal family said divided over possible future ties with Israel

Crown prince said to be in favor of the move as it could bring business opportunities, coordination over Iran, but king is solidly committed to Palestinian demand for state

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, speaks to his father, King Salman, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, December 9, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, speaks to his father, King Salman, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, December 9, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

The Saudi Arabian royal family is reportedly split over possible future ties with Israel following landmark agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

According to the report, King Salman bin Abdulaziz has come into conflict with his son, de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with the latter said to be in favor of the move.

The newspaper reported that the monarch remains committed to a boycott of Israel coupled with a strong stance in favor of the Palestinian demand for an independent state, while the crown prince is open to normalization with the Jewish state and the business opportunities it could bring as well as public coordination in the struggle against Iran.

Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share Tehran as a common foe and maintain close ties to Washington.

US President Donald Trump, left and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud gesture during a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

According to the report, cited by Channel 13 news, the crown prince knew in advance of Israel’s negotiations with the UAE and Bahrain, but did not tell his father for fear he would try to sabotage the efforts, a move that angered the king. Bin Salman reportedly knew that his father’s public opposition to an agreement between Israel and the UAE could make the negotiations difficult.

The king instructed his foreign minister to declare once again the kingdom’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state and one of the king’s associates wrote an article in a Saudi-owned newspaper in which he reiterated the pro-Palestinian position of the royal house, the Walla news site reported, citing the Wall Street Journal report.

The article reportedly additionally hinted that the UAE should have pressured the Israelis to make further concessions vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

Under the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, formulated by Saudi Arabia’s former king Abdullah, Arab states agreed to only forge ties with Israel after an accord is reached with the Palestinians based on the 1967 armistice lines.

Saudi Arabia remained noticeably silent following the announcement of a normalization agreement between Israel and Bahrain. But Bahrain is seen as a client state of its neighbor and close ally Saudi Arabia, and the tiny Gulf state is not likely to have moved forward with normalization without approval from Riyadh.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump have both indicated several more countries could be in line to establish open relations in the near future and head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency Yossi Cohen indicated in an interview aired Wednesday that Saudi Arabia could be in line to normalize ties with Israel, while refusing to comment on whether he had met with the rulers of the Arab kingdom.

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Cohen has been cited as a key figure in the US-sponsored Abraham Accords with Abu Dhabi and Manama, signed at a festive White House ceremony Tuesday. Cohen reportedly shuttled to Gulf states on numerous secretive journeys in recent years to build closer clandestine ties with Arab nations.

Questioned as to whether major regional power Saudi Arabia could move to do so in the foreseeable future, Cohen answered: “I believe it could happen.” And asked if he had met with the crown prince, he smiled and said “I’d like not to comment on that point.”

Trump said Tuesday he expected Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel following the diplomatic move taken by Bahrain and the UAE.

He also said he believed some five or six countries were on the path to peace with Israel, then later in the day revised that number to up to nine nations.

In this May 20, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump (right) shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Asked if he expected Saudi Arabia to follow the UAE and Bahrain, Trump said: “I do. I spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia,” adding it would come “at the right time.”

The New York Times earlier this month quoted unnamed Trump administration officials who have been pushing the Saudis to recognize Israel saying that this possibility remains remote at best for now.

Opening official ties with Saudi Arabia would be a historic achievement for Israel, and mark a significant shift in the region. The Saudis have remained non-committal, however, despite support for normalization from Washington and shared interests with Israel.

In what was seen as a significant step forward, Saudi Arabia allowed Israeli planes to fly through their airspace last month.

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