Saudi Arabia pushes for Palestinian-Israeli talks
WASHINGTON - The main focus of Middle East peace efforts should be to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the Saudi foreign minister said on Thursday.
“I believe that the focus now needs to be on getting the Palestinians and the Israelis back to the negotiating table. In the end, the only thing that can deliver lasting peace and lasting stability is an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said in a virtual appearance at a US think tank.
There has been speculation Saudi Arabia could follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which on September 15 signed agreements to establish formal ties with Israel, the first Arab states to do so in a quarter of a century.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud told US President Donald Trump in a phone call last September that Riyadh is keen on reaching “a lasting and just solution to the Palestinian cause to bring peace, which is the main starting point for the Kingdom’s efforts and the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Saudi Arabia said in August it would establish diplomatic ties with Israel only after the Jewish state signed an internationally-recognised peace accord with the Palestinians.
Even if did not signal an intent to normalise elations with Israel soon, Saudi Arabia agreed to permit UAE flights to “all countries” to overfly the kingdom, as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced the launch of regular direct flights linking the UAE with the Jewish state.
After the opening of the US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue session, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo exhorted Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to join the “changing dynamic” in the region by recognising Israel after normalisation moves by two other Arab Gulf states.
“We hope Saudi Arabia will consider normalising its relationships as well. We want to thank them for the assistance they’ve had in the success of the Abraham Accords so far,” he said.
Speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, the Saudi foreign minister also said he hoped it may soon be possible to find ” a way forward” to resolve a dispute that led Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to sever political, trade and transport ties with Qatar in mid-2017.
The four accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and cozying up to regional foe Iran. Doha has further irked its neighbour by establishing a Turkish military base on its soil.
“We hope … that we are able to find a path forward to address the legitimate security concerns … that drove us to take the decisions we took,” Prince Faisal said. “I think there is a path towards that and we are hoping that we can find that in the relatively near future.”
Asked when that might happen, he replied: “Your guess is as good as mine.”