Former Saudi general who visited Israel faces backlash
LONDON - The government of Saudi Arabia stated that the recent visit by a Saudi delegation, led by a former military general, to Israel does not reflect a change in relations between the two countries.
Retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki, who heads the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies think-tank in Jeddah, led a group of Saudi academics and members of the business community on a trip to Israel. The visit led to a backlash on social media.
“Anwar Eshki has visited the Zionist entity with a delegation of academics and businessmen. History does not forget the traitors and Jerusalem will bear witness against you,” Abdullah al-Zahrani, a professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh, wrote on his Twitter account.
The London-based, Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper quoted a Saudi Foreign Ministry official as saying the visit “does not reflect the views of the Saudi government”. Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations and the kingdom’s citizens are banned from travelling to Israel.
Eshki released a statement “not in defence of the visit but to further the dialogue”.
He said this was his second visit to the Palestinian territories. The other in 2015 was “after four years of insistence” by Palestinian General Jibril Rajoub.
Eshki said the Palestinian Authority (PA) created the itinerary for both visits. On his previous trip, Eshki met with Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and led evening prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque. He described the experience as a “great honour”.
Eshki said that on his more recent trip: “We visited a number of universities, research centres and the provinces and the holy places and we prayed with Muslims… at the mosque of Omar ibn al-Khattab.”
“We met families of the martyrs and detainees, who I had the opportunity to have discussions with,” he said. “After paying our respects, we also attended the wedding of the son of one of the most well-known prisoners of the struggle, Marwan Barghouti.”
The PA set up meetings with family members of Palestinians killed by Israelis. The relatives demanded a stop to the violence and support for the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s peace initiative, calls for normalisation of relations between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories and a just settlement to the Palestinian refugee issue.
“We had talks with them and they sent a message to the Israeli government calling for peace,” Eshki wrote.
The PA also gathered a number of Arab members of the Knesset for talks with Eshki.
The former Saudi general met with Major-General Yoav (Poli) Mordechai of the Israel Defence Forces in west Jerusalem. According to the statement, Eshki thanked Mordechai “for granting his request of allowing Palestinian worshippers to pray in al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, securing their transport as far as Gaza, where the number of worshippers during Friday prayers was said to be 300,000”.
Eshki said he attended a dinner with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and: “We convinced him about the pledges of the King Abdullah peace plan to normalise relations if implemented.”
The day following the meeting, a statement from the prime minister’s office that it would consider the matter seriously, Eshki said.