Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin of Likud told the Saudi-owned Elaph website on Friday that there is a chance for Israeli-Arab cooperation on mutual interests, and Israel would welcome any entente that recognized its right to exist.
“I am very realistic, and in the current situation the ground is ripe for cooperation on shared interests,” Elkin said, according to the Ynet news website. “Even so, dialogue on a common alliance is still distant. We will be happy with any alliance that is based on partnership and recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a nation state.”
Asked whether there were direct negotiations between Israel and Arab states, Elkin was more reticent.
“It is the business of those states if they want public or secret relations with us,” he said.
The London-based Elaph website is an independent news outlet owned by Saudi businessman and writer Othman Al Omeir. It has previously interviewed Kulanu MK Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US. Last month, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold discussed with the website Israel’s actions to prevent the transfer of advanced missiles to Hezbollah, an Iranian ally.
Elkin also argued that the current conflicts within the Muslim world showed that the Jewish state was not the cause of friction in the region.
“The Middle East will never again be what it once was, especially in light of Iranian efforts to take over,” he said. “On the other end, there is the Islamic radicalism represented by Daesh [Islamic State]. This increases the rift between Sunnis and Shiites, and only proves that Israel is not the source of conflicts in the Middle East.”
Elkin also maintained that the situation in Jerusalem, the city holy to both Jews and Muslims and frequently a flashpoint site, is calmer than in the past.
“Those who visit the Temple Mount will not feel anything out of the ordinary,” he said in the interview, conducted at his office in the capital.
“Accusations that Israel has been trying to change the status quo in Jerusalem are incorrect,” he said. “The situation on Temple Mount has not changed, and incitement against Israel is wrong. I call on anyone to visit the place and see for themselves.”
The Palestinians have charged that Israel is seeking to change the decades-long status quo on the Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and is the site of the two Jewish temples of the Bible. Israel has frequently rejected this claim, and accused the Palestinian Authority of incitement to violence.
The interview came as Saudi Arabia feels increasingly threatened by an Iran that is newly empowered after the lifting of international sanctions. The war in Yemen is another point of contention, with the Saudis accusing Iran of backing Houthi rebels, who follow a branch of Shia Islamic similar to the dominant religion in Iran.