In an apparent reference to Iran, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Israel have “a common enemy” and that they could immediately normalize their relations once the Palestine issue is resolved.
In an interview with the TIME magazine published on Thursday, the first in line to the Saudi throne spoke of the prospect of Riyadh-Tel Aviv relations, describing the regime’s conflict with the Palestinians as the only obstacle to the normalization of ties with Israel.
“We have a common enemy, and it seems that we have a lot of potential areas to have economic cooperation,” the crown prince said.
The remarks come days after bin Salman, in an interview with the Atlantic, attempted to put Israeli and Palestinian land claims on an equal footing in a dramatic shift in Riyadh’s long-held position on Palestine, saying Israelis, like Palestinians, have the “right” to have “their own homeland.”
That interview stirred so much controversy among the defenders of the Palestinian cause that apparently forced the prince’s father, Saudi King Salman, to reaffirm support for the Palestinians and their “legitimate rights” to an independent state in a phone call with US President Donald Trump.
Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, repeated the same stance in his remarks to TIME and said both Israelis and Palestinians “have the right to live and coexist.”
Saudi Arabia has been the main sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative, which envisions a so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, prior to bin Salman, no senior Saudi official had publicly accepted that Israel has a right to any land.
“We cannot have relations with Israel before solving the peace issue with the Palestinians,” but “when it happens, of course next day we’ll have good and normal relations with Israel and it will be in the best for everyone,” he stated.
Saudi Arabia does not officially recognize Israel and has no formal ties with the regime. However, the two sides have been widely reported to have cooperated secretly for years.
The warming of Riyadh-Tel Aviv relations has gathered pace since June 2017, when bin Salman became the crown prince.
In recent months, the kingdom has been gradually softening its public posture toward Israel in what analysts describe as an attempt by Riyadh to prepare public opinion at home and elsewhere for potential normal relations with Israel.
Recent reports also suggest that Saudi Arabia has taken up an active role in US attempts to scramble a “peace” deal between the Israelis and Palestinians to get rid of the decades-long conflict, which Riyadh views as a stumbling block to overt relations with Tel Aviv.
Last November, Lebanon’s al-Akhbar daily published a secret undated letter from Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to bin Salman, in which he outlined a roadmap for normalizing ties with Israel with the ultimate goal of uniting against Iran, their common enemy.
Under that roadmap, Saudi Arabia and Israel would first try to resolve the Palestine issue, with Riyadh making huge pro-Israel concessions on the issues of Palestinian refugees and the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.
Afterwards, they would pursue their “common goals” regarding Iran.
Last November, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Riyadh for closed-door talks with bin Salman about Trump’s Middle East plans, which are yet to be unveiled.
The New York Times cited Palestinian, Arab and European officials as saying a month later that bin Salman presented a plan “that would be more tilted toward the Israelis than any ever embraced by the American government, one that presumably no Palestinian leader could ever accept.”
“The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem (al-Quds) as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants,” the report said.
Abbas later denied that report. So did bin Salman in his comments to TIME.
Bin Salman’s latest interview came towards the end of its three-week tour of the United States, where he met with leaders of a number of pro-Israeli lobbying groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The Israeli military’s chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot, recently said the regime was ready to share intelligence with Saudi Arabia on Iran.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has indicated that Israel has had secret contacts with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries over their mutual concerns about Iran.