After Israel-UAE Normalization, Saudi Foreign Minister Says Committed to Arab Peace Initiative

In first comments since deal, Riyadh's top diplomat hints at kingdom's opposition to normalizing ties without an agreement on the Palestinian issue

Noa Landau
Reuters
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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrive for a joint news conference in Berlin, Germany August 19, 2020.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrive for a joint news conference in Berlin, Germany August 19, 2020.Credit: John Macdougall/Pool
Noa Landau
Reuters

Saudi Arabia remains committed to peace on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative, which states that normalization with Israel would only come as part of a wider agreement to establish a Palestinian state, the kindgom's foreign minister said on Wednesday, in the first official comments since the United Arab Emirates reached a normalization deal with Israel.

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Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud also said in an event in Berlin that unilateral Israeli construction of settlements and moves toward annexing part of the West Bank are damaging chances for peace. He said the UAE deal, which also halted unilateral, “could be viewed as positive.”

"Saudi Arabia considers Israel's unilateral policies of an annexation and building settlements as an illegitimate and detrimental to the two states solution," Al Saud said. "Saudi Arabia affirms its commitment to peace as a strategic option based on the Arab Peace Initiatives."

As part of the Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League in 2002, Arab states led by Saudi Arabia have called for a Palestinian state drawn along borders that pre-date Israel’s capture of territory in a 1967 war as well as a capital in East Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees, points rejected by Israel. “Once that is achieved, all things are possible," Prince Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia had not previously officially commented about the deal between the UAE and Israel, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped to broker with support from senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Kushner defended Saudi Arabia's silence on the deal in an interview with CNBC over the weekend. “I do think that we have other countries that are very interested in moving forward,” Kushner claimed. “And then, as that progresses, I do think it is an inevitability that Saudi Arabia and Israel will have fully normalized relations and they will be able to do a lot of great things together,” he added.

Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, does not recognize Israel and its air space is closed to Israeli airliners.

The kingdom, a close U.S. ally, has been ruled by 84-year-old King Salman since 2015, who has over the years repeatedly reassured Arab allies it will not endorse any Middle East peace plan that fails to address Jerusalem's status or refugees' right of return.Saudi officials have repeatedly denied any difference between King Salman, and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler and next in line to the throne, who has shaken up long-held policies on many issues and told a U.S. magazine in April that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land.

Both Saudi Arabia and Israel view Iran as the major threat to the Middle East. Increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fueled speculation that shared interests may push the Saudis and Israel to work together, and there have been signs in recent years of some thawing between the two. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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