Saudi Arabia reaffirms no Israel deal without Palestinian peace

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BERLIN, Aug 19, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it
will not follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic
ties with Israel until the Jewish state has signed an internationally
recognised peace accord with the Palestinians.

The UAE last week became the first Gulf state to normalise relations
with Israel, in a historic US-brokered accord that raised the prospect
of similar deals with other Arab states including Saudi Arabia.

But after days of conspicuous silence and in the face of US pressure
to announce a similar deal, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince
Faisal bin Farhan ruled out the possibility until the Palestinian
issue is resolved.

“Peace must be achieved with the Palestinians” on the basis of
international agreements as a pre-condition for any normalisation of
relations, Prince Faisal told reporters during a visit to Berlin.

“Once that is achieved all things are possible,” he added, in a
comment that was consistent with Saudi Arabia’s previous stance on the
issue.

Saudi Arabia has long maintained this public stance even as it has
cultivated clandestine relations with Israel in recent years, in a
shift spearheaded by de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Prince Faisal’s remarks are the kingdom’s first official reaction
since the UAE’s landmark deal with Israel, which is only the third
such accord the Jewish state has struck with an Arab country after
Egypt and Jordan.

At a news conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas, Prince
Faisal reiterated criticism of Israel’s “unilateral policies” of
annexation and building settlements in the occupied West Bank as
“illegitimate” and “detrimental” to a two-state solution.

But he also voiced cautious optimism over last week’s deal, which
saw Israel agreeing to suspend the annexation of occupied West Bank
territories, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said the
plan was not off the table in the long run.

“Any efforts that result in holding back the threat of annexation
could be viewed as positive,” Prince Faisal said.

– ‘Biggest constraint’ –

Until now, Saudi Arabia had maintained a notable silence over last
week’s agreement even as local officials hinted that Riyadh was
unlikely to immediately follow in the footsteps of the UAE, its
principle regional ally.

Amping up US pressure on the kingdom, President Donald Trump’s
son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner insisted on Monday that it would
be in Riyadh’s interest to formally establish ties with Israel.

Further putting the kingdom in the spotlight, Netanyahu on Monday
said Israel was working on opening a corridor over Saudi Arabia for
flights to the UAE.

But Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy and home to
Islam’s holiest sites, faces more sensitive political calculations
than the UAE.

Not only would a formal recognition of Israel be seen by
Palestinians and their supporters as a betrayal of their cause, it
would also hurt the kingdom’s image as the leader of the Islamic
world.

“The notion that Saudi Arabia will be next to normalise relations
with Israel was far-fetched,” said Aziz Alghashian, a lecturer at
Essex University specialising in the kingdom’s policy towards Israel.

“The biggest constraint for Saudi-Israeli normalisation is not the
fear of a domestic and regional backlash.

“Rather, Saudi Arabia deems it necessary to not normalise relations
outside the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative that called for
resolving the Palestinian issue, if it still wants to be seen as the
leader of the Muslim and Arab world,” Alghashian told AFP.

In 2002 Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative which
called for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian
territories occupied after the Six-Day War of 1967, in exchange for
peace and the full normalisation of relations.

But a shared animosity towards Iran, along with Saudi attempts to
attract foreign investment to fund Prince Mohammed’s ambitious Vision
2030 economic diversification plan, appear to be pushing the kingdom
closer to Israel than ever.

In 2018 Riyadh quietly opened its airspace for the first time for an
Israel-bound passenger plane.

Riyadh has also pursued a bold outreach to Jewish figures in recent
years, even as it appears wary of a public backlash.