Monday 10 December 2018

Saudi crown prince recognises Israel's right to a homeland beside Palestinians

Palestinian protesters carry an injured comrade during clashes with Israeli forces following a protest along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Palestinian protesters carry an injured comrade during clashes with Israeli forces following a protest along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Josie Ensor

Saudi Arabia's crown prince has said Israelis have a right to a homeland alongside Palestinians, in a sign the kingdom was open to the possibility of normalising ties.

Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, said the Jewish people were entitled to live peacefully on their own land when asked if he believes they have a right to a nation-state.

"I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land," he said. "But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations."

Saudi Arabia - birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest shrines - does not recognise Israel. It has maintained for years that establishing any diplomatic relations hinges on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state.

The crown prince also said that while the ultra-conservative country has "religious concerns" about the holy mosque in Jerusalem and the rights of Palestinians, it has no objection "against any other people".

"There are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries", Prince Mohammed told 'The Atlantic' magazine in an interview as he tours the US.

The countries have grown closer under the crown prince, bonding over their mutual distrust of Iran.

Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel last month, a hugely symbolic move that was greeted with much cheer in the Jewish state after a decades-long ban.

King Salman reiterated his support for the Palestinians in a phone conversation on Monday night with US President Donald Trump, in rare comments made by the ageing monarch.

The king also emphasised the need to advance the peace process, speaking after Israeli security forces killed 16 Palestinians last week during a demonstration along the Israel-Gaza border

The Trump administration has pinned its hopes on Saudi Arabia as a key figure in the peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

While Riyadh does not officially acknowledge Israel's existence, it has in the past talked about recognising Israel in the context of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

But no such senior Saudi official is known to have previously accepted that Israel has a "right" to any land beyond the practical need to secure a lasting deal.

Saudi publicly condemned Mr Trump's move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last year, but Arab officials said that the kingdom was privately pushing Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to accept a less than favourable deal.

Reports suggested the deal would see the Palestinians lose their claim to east Jerusalem as its capital.

In a major Saudi shake-up last year, Prince Mohammed pushed aside his older and more experienced cousin to become first in line to his father's throne, setting himself up to control Saudi policy for decades to come.

The Saudis are working aggressively to change perceptions. They have cast themselves as essential partners against Islamist extremist groups and worked to improve women's rights in the kingdom.

Abroad, he has escalated a war of words with Tehran, describing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, in 'The Atlantic' interview as an "evil guy" who "makes Hitler look good".

Irish Independent

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