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Israel And Saudi Arabia: The Relationship Emerging Into The Open
- Apr 04, 2018 -

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Whatever may be happening behind the scenes, a complex system of public signalling is under way between Saudi 

Arabia and Israel. And Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's recent comments to US magazine The 

Atlantic should be seen very much in this light.

Asked if he believes that the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland, the crown 

prince - in effect the day-to-day ruler of Saudi Arabia - said: "I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their 

peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.

"But," he went on, "we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations."

This kind of public recognition of Israel's right to exist in an area associated with ancient Jewish history is rare from a senior 

Arab leader. It is, of course, not unprecedented. Egypt and Jordan already have a kind of peace with Israel. And many might 

argue that the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative - a regional peace plan which dates back some 16 years - really 

marked a turning point in the Saudi outlook. It offered a full peace to Israel providing a variety of issues were resolved: return to 

pre-1967 ceasefire lines; a just resolution of the refugee problem; and a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.


Indeed, the Arab Peace Initiative has been dusted off and discussed at various intervals over the past decade and a half, since 

it probably marks the only basis for a lasting agreement that might be acceptable to the region as a whole.


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed made no explicit reference to the recent violence in Gaza (maybe the interview was conducted 

earlier). It was left to his father, King Salman - in a telephone call with US President Donald Trump - to reaffirm Saudi Arabia's 

"steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with 

Jerusalem as its capital". This, of course, does not necessarily discount or disavow the crown prince's comments in his 

interview. And it is the prince who is driving the process of wholesale reform in his country.


Where does this leave Israel-Saudi relations?

Context, as ever, is crucial. The warming has been under way for some time. Both countries were alarmed at what their 

governments saw as the Obama administration's weakness in the region in the face of a rising Iran. Both opposed the Iran 

nuclear agreement - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). And both want to see much tougher action taken against 

Tehran's spreading influence, not least in Syria.

Israel in particular has not missed any opportunity to brief, nudge and hint at the growing depth of its dialogue with Riyadh. 

Saudi Arabia has been much more reticent. But Prince Salman's comments together with a recent decision to allow Air India 

flights to and from Tel Aviv to transit Saudi air-space are tangible signs of a shift in Saudi Arabia too.