Saudi Daily Calls on Abbas to Consider Netanyahu's Invitation to Address Knesset

The editorial in the Saudi Gazette cites the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's address to the Knesset in the course of a visit that paved the way for a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

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Netanyahu on a video screen as he speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2016.
Netanyahu on a video screen as he speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2016.Credit: Mary Altaffer, AP

An English-language Saudi daily, the Saudi Gazette, published an editorial on its website on Sunday suggesting that the Palestinians "should not be too quick to dismiss the invitation extended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to address Israel’s parliament."

The Saudi editorial was prompted by an address that Netanyahu delivered last week to a session of the United Nations General Assembly in which he invited Abbas to address the Knesset in Jerusalem and said he would "gladly speak in Ramallah," the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

"Netanyahu’s gesture was quickly rejected by the Palestinians as a 'new gimmick,'" the Saudi newspaper editorial said, "but the invitation is reminiscent of the one issued by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to visit Israel — and the rest is history." Sadat's visit ultimately paved the way for a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

On the negative side, the editorial did add that Netanyahu "rejects a settlement freeze, will not uproot settlements, rejects the 1967 borders as the basis for talks and rejects any division of Jerusalem."

Saudi Arabia is under the firm control of the Saudi royal family and does not have a free press. The New York-based organization Freedom House, which monitors the state of freedom around the world, noted that the Saudi government "tightly controls domestic media content and dominates regional print and satellite-television coverage."

This prompts the question as to the extent to which the editorial reflects current Saudi government thinking.

Saudi Arabia does not formally recognize Israel's existence and has no diplomatic relations with Israel, but there are contacts between the two countries.

In July, retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki visited Israel and met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai. Eshki, who came at the head of 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.

The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 was based a Saudi proposal. It states that if Israel reaches agreement with the Palestinians about the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital and with territorial exchanges and a resolution of the Palestinian refugees issue, all the Arab nations would sign peace accords with Israel and establish full diplomatic relations.

Eshki served in the past in senior positions in the Saudi military and his country's Foreign Ministry. He told Al-Shams radio of Nazareth: “My visit was not coordinated with the Saudi royal house and I did not receive a green light from Saudi Arabia,” and added: “I came on my own behalf and that of the research institute. However, there were those who tried to exploit the visit and its timing in order to attack Saudi Arabia. In Israel, too, they exploited the visit to report on closer [relations] and normalization."

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