Saudi King Salman reaffirmed support for Palestinians to US President Donald Trump, state media said Tuesday, after his son and heir apparent said Israel has a “right” to a homeland.
The king “reaffirmed the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.
The king also emphasised the need to advance the Middle East peace process in a phone call with Trump, which came after Israeli forces killed 17 Palestinians last week during a demonstration on its border with Gaza.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations, but behind the scenes their ties appear to have improved in recent years against what they see as a common Iranian threat.
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Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has long proved an obstacle to a full rapprochement, however, as Riyadh still supports the Palestinian claim to sovereignty.
But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated a notable shift in the kingdom’s position in an interview published Monday with US news magazine The Atlantic.
The prince was asked by the magazine whether the “Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland?”
Young Prince Salman most foolish comment about Shia Islamic State of Iran …
The well-protected Prince Mohammed does not seem particularly worried about mortal threats, however. He was jovial to the point of ebullience when I met him at his brother’s compound outside Washington (his brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, is the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.). Prince Mohammed (who is known widely by his initials, MbS) seemed eager to download his heterodoxical, contentious views on a number of subjects–on women’s rights (he appears doubtful about the laws that force Saudi women to travel with male relatives); on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who is, in the prince’s mind, worse than Hitler; and on Israel. He told me he recognizes the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state of their own next to a Palestinian state; no Arab leader has ever acknowledged such a right.
Prince Mohammed, who is on a seemingly endless pilgrimage to the nodes of American power (he is in Hollywood this week) is an unfamiliar type for Middle East reporters accustomed to a certain style of Saudi leadership, which is to say, the functionally comatose model of authoritarian monarchism. Prince Mohammed’s father, the 82-year-old King Salman, is not overly infirm, but it is clear that his son is already in charge.
Arab Peace Initiative (API) by S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced the Arab Peace Initiative (API) at the Beirut Arab League Summit in March 2002 as a proposal for the Arab world to fully recognize the State of Israel. In exchange of the Arab states guaranteeing Israel normal diplomatic relations and security, the API called for Israel to withdraw its territorial control to the June 4, 1967 lines allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and to come to a just and agreed solution over the issue of Palestinian refugees. Considering the existential crises Israel had faced during its wars against the Arab states throughout the twentieth century, the API was a novel step towards peace and security.
The API was initially endorsed by the 22 member states of the Arab League where it was presented. More countries adopted the API when it was endorsed by the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
At a meeting in April 2013 hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, a delegation representing the Arab League further displayed Arab states’ interest in peace when they scaled back the API’s demands upon Israel by accepting a two-state solution with mutually agreed upon land swaps. The delegation was comprised of Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby, and a mix of foreign ministers and ambassadors from the organizations’ member states.
While the API has been unable to embody the sweeping change so many believed it had the potential to be, most proposals on how to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process look towards the API as a framework or key reference in negotiating a solution.
As regional actors have made previous attempts at encouraging peace before 2002, the API was a historic attempt at concluding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it was the first collective Arab effort that was unanimously agreed to by all Arab states. Further adding to the API’s monumental character was that it was a proposal launched by one of the key leading Arab states in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, who began the summit with an unprecedented address to the Israeli public calling for peace and security.
On May 31, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earned plaudits from the international community and angered his ultra-right-wing government when he announced that he sees the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as a basis for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians. On June 11, at a closed meeting with his fellow ministers, he reassured them that “Israel will never accept the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiations. [Arab countries] must grasp that they need to revise the Arab League proposal according to the changes that Israel demands.”
These contretemps are a perfect example of the manipulations and deceit that have characterized Netanyahu’s “peace diplomacy” during his four terms as prime minister of Israel. He empowered religious nationalists and xenophobic right wingers, and supported their enlargement of settlements throughout the West Bank, both openly and clandestinely, even as he retained the support of the U.S. Congress and a hidebound American Jewish establishment by claiming that his commitment to a two-state solution has been frustrated by Palestinian and Arab rejectionism.
Statement by Supreme Leader King Salman on Palestinians
“Our prophet, his neighbors were Jewish. You will find a lot of Jews in Saudi Arabia coming from America, coming from Europe. There are no problems between Christian and Muslims and Jews. We have problems like you would find anywhere in the world, among some people. But the normal sort of problems.”
The Middle East, he said, had been divided into a dichotomy of two camps, which he labelled the “triangle of evil” consisting of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sunni terror groups, and an alliance of self-described moderate states that includes Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman.
The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the prince added was worse than Hitler. “I believe the Iranian supreme leader makes Hitler look good. Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. … The supreme leader is trying to conquer the world,” the crown prince asserted.
On Tuesday, King Salman reiterated Saudi Arabia’s support for a Palestinian state after his son’s comments—a rare statement by an Arab leader.
The king also emphasised the need to advance the peace process in a phone call with US President Donald Trump on Monday night, made after Israeli security forces killed 16 Palestinians last week during the March of Return along the Israel-Gaza border, during which Gazans rioted. The majority of those killed were Hamas terrorists.
King Salman reaffirmed “the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital”, state news agency SPA said.