Retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki visited Israel this week and met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
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Eshki, who headed a delegation of Saudi academics and business people, also met with a group of Knesset members to encourage dialogue in Israel on the Arab Peace Initiative.
Eshki had served in senior positions in the Saudi military and foreign ministry and currently heads a research institute. It is unclear how close he is to officials in the Riyadh government and the palace. While this wasn't an official visit, it was a highly unusual one, as Eshki couldn't have traveled to Israel without approval from the Saudi government.
Eshki and Gold held a publicized joint event at a Washington research institute in June 2015, after meeting several times privately within academic frameworks over the preceding year. Gold attended the event a few days before assuming the role of director-general of the Foreign Ministry.
Eshki and the delegation arrived in Israel in the beginning of the week. They also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior government figures in Ramallah.
Their meetings with the two Israeli officials – Gold and Mordechai – did not take place in a government office but rather at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
The former general and the delegates met with opposition Knesset members on Friday. The meeting was organized by Meretz MK Esawi Freige, and was attended by MK Michal Rozin of the same party and Zionist Union MKs Ksenia Svetlova and Omer Bar-Lev. Freige told Haaretz that Eshki and the delegates also met with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid on Tuesday. He said that Lapid wanted two members of his party, MKs Ofer Shelah and Jacob Perry, to attend Friday's meeting, but it didn't work out due to scheduling conflicts.
Freige, Svetlova and Rozin said in conversations with Haaretz that Eshki and the delegates sought to meet with Israeli lawmakers in order to encourage dialogue in Israel about the Arab Peace Initiative. They added that during Friday's meeting, the MKs proposed that Eshki invite Israeli lawmakers who support the initiative to a meeting in Saudi Arabia. "The Saudis want to open up to Israel," Freige said. "This is a strategic step for them. They said they want to continue what former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat started. They want to get closer to Israel. This is clearly evident."
During the meeting, the former Saudi general told the MKs about his relationship with Gold, noting that the Foreign Ministry director-general wrote an anti-Saudi book over a decade ago titled "Hatred's Kingdom." Eshki told the MKs that during one of their meetings, Gold apologized for his accusations against Saudi Arabia, said that some of what he had written was wrong and stressed that he wants to strengthen the ties between the two countries.