A news story by Israeli newspaper Haaretz made shocking claims that the Israeli Prime Minister had visited Saudi Arabia and met the country’s Crown Prince. The story, which has now been debunked by Saudi Arabia, was based on a source they say is an Israeli government adviser. An Israeli journalist showed a private jet in Saudi Arabia and claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had used the jet to fly in to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
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Many news outlets reported the shocking news as both countries have been long time foes, having fought in four wars. The story began unravelling when Netanyahu refused to answer when he was asked whether he was on board the private jet.
Anti-Saudi activists must have felt their Christmas come early as the Israeli Prime Minister is unpopular on the international stage of Muslim countries. Some anti-Saudi news outlets and blogs rushed to condemn Saudi Arabia. Iran and Hamas were quick to condemn Saudi Arabia claiming that this is an “insult” to the Palestinian cause.
The meeting was actually a US-Saudi meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from the outgoing Trump administration and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan tweeted clarifying that “No such meeting occurred”.
[For Saudi normalisation with Israel] one very important thing has to happen first, which is a permanent and full peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis that delivers a Palestinian state with dignity within the 1967 borders to the Palestinians.– Saudi Foreign Minister
The Red Sea resort where the Pompeo meeting took place was in the Neom city, the city which Mohammed bin Salman wishes to turn into a hi-tech tourism hub for the country. It has been suggested that the city will be welcoming to start ups and tech companies, with the potential to become the new silicon valley.
Earlier this year a few Muslim majority nations became among the first to recognise Israel. The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Kosovo signed deals normalising relations with Israel. Other Muslim countries who have recognised the state of Israel from decades ago include Turkey and Iran. Turkey benefits from Billions of dollars of trade with Israel, which now could be diversified among other Muslim majority nations.
In a rare split from their neighbours, Saudi Arabia maintained a firm pro-Palestinian stance on the issue. Once again Saudi Arabia reiterated their demands to see a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders before normalising ties with Israel.
A Saudi King or Crown Prince have never met with an Israeli Prime Minister to date, the meeting would have had big implications for the region. The 2002 Arab peace initiative which guarantees on Palestinian rights, land and borders was put forward by Saudi Arabia at the UN again this year.
King Salman said the Palestinians were his fraternal brothers echoing calls throughout his reign. In 2015 in one of his first speeches King Salman said the “Defence of Arab and Islamic causes – at the top of which is the legitimate right of the Palestinians to a state, with Jerusalem as its capital, will remain at the top of Saudi Arabia’s priority”
Saudi Arabia has fought several wars against Israel and when he was younger King Salman also fought alongside the Palestinians.
At the G20 summit on Saturday, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said the position of the Kingdom had not changed towards Israel. He said “We have supported normalisation with Israel for a long time, because we are the authors of the 2002 Arab Peace initiative, which envisioned complete normalisation with Israel.
“But there is one very important thing that has to happen first, which is a permanent and full peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis that delivers a Palestinian state with dignity within the 1967 borders to the Palestinians.”