A prominent Saudi prince harshly criticized Israel at a security summit in Bahrain attended by Israel’s foreign minister remotely, showing the challenges that any further agreement between Arab states and Israel must meet in the absence of ‘an independent Palestinian state.
Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud’s fiery remarks during the Manama dialogue seemed to take Israel’s foreign minister by surprise, especially as Israelis are warmly welcomed by officials from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to the continuation of relations normalization agreements.
The decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has not been resolved by these agreements. The Palestinians regard these pacts as a stab in the back of their Arab compatriots and a betrayal of their cause.
Prince Turki bin Faisal opened his remarks by contrasting what he described as the perception of Israel to be “peaceful defenders of high moral principles” and what he described as a much darker Palestinian reality of live under a “Western colonizing” power.
Israel has “imprisoned [Palestinians] in the concentration camps under the weakest security charges – young and old, women and men, who are rotting there without recourse to justice ”, declared Prince Turki.
“They demolish houses however they want and murder whoever they want.”
‘An open wound’
The prince also criticized Israel’s undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons and the Israeli government “unleashing their political henchmen and media from other countries to denigrate and demonize Saudi Arabia.”
In unusually brutal language, he accused Israel of portraying itself as a “small country, existentially threatened, surrounded by bloodthirsty murderers who want to eradicate it from existence.”
“And yet they profess that they want to be friends with Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The prince reiterated the kingdom’s official position that the solution lies in the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative, an agreement sponsored by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that offers Israel full ties with all Arab states in exchange of the creation of a Palestinian state on the territory captured by Israel in 1967.
He added: “You cannot treat an open wound with palliatives and pain relievers.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who spoke immediately after Prince Turki, said: “I would like to express my regret on the remarks of the Saudi representative. I don’t think they reflect the spirit and the changes that are happening in the Middle East. “
The confrontation and subsequent back-and-forth between Prince Turki and a confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the summit highlighted still widespread opposition to Israel by many in Saudi Arabia, despite some efforts backed by the State to promote awareness among Jewish groups and supporters of Israel.
Ashkenazi, meanwhile, reiterated Israel’s position that it is the Palestinians who must be blamed for not reaching a peace deal.
“We have a choice here with the Palestinians to resolve it or not, or to participate in this blame game,” said Ashkenazi, an ally of Netanyahu’s main rival, Benny Gantz.
Dore Gold, a confidante of Netanyahu and former UN ambassador in attendance, hinted that Prince Faisal’s remarks were “accusations of the past – many of which are false.”
The prince later referred to Gold’s previous television appearances “denigrating the kingdom and using the most vile descriptions.”
“I think Mr. Dore Gold should be the last to speak of having previous convictions and positions here,” the prince said.
Prince Turki headed Saudi intelligence services for over 20 years and served as ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom.
Although he does not currently hold any official position, his position is considered to closely mirror that of King Salman.
However, the king’s bossy son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 35, is more willing to quietly engage with Israel to counter common rival Iran and boost foreign investment in the kingdom.
‘Not an easy race’
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, also on stage for the tense discussions, sought to iron out the differences in his remarks.
Yet he also stressed the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state solution as envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative.
“The path to peace is not easy. There will be a lot of obstacles along the way, ”he said. “There will be ups and downs. But the foundation of this path, the path of peace, is the Israeli-Palestinian question.
In an apparent reference to Iran, al-Zayani added that a resolution to the conflict would also remove the pretext to justify some of the threats to regional security.
Despite Prince Turki’s straightforward rhetoric, mutual concern over Iran gradually brought Israel and the Gulf countries closer together, and Riyadh itself quietly established relations with the Jewish state for several years.
Reports last month that Netanyahu had been holding secret talks in Saudi Arabia fueled speculation that a normalization deal with the Gulf’s top power might be in the works. Riyadh, however, denied the meeting.
“Need to see a settlement”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told AFP news agency on Saturday that the kingdom’s position remains steadfast.
“We have been very clear that in order for us to proceed with normalization, we will have to see a settlement of the Palestinian dispute and the formation of a viable State of Palestine along the lines envisaged in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002,” he said. he declared. in an interview with Manama.
Asked whether this would indeed rule out establishing ties with Israel in the near future, he said he was “optimistic that there is a path to a resolution between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”