Saudi Arabia has spent the last 60 years refusing to recognize the existence of the state of Israel. But on Tuesday, all of that changed: new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated openly that Israel had a right to exist, and talked about the possibility of future ties between the two countries. Speaking with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Prince Mohammed explained, “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.” He added, for clarification, “We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people. This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people.” He also admitted, “there are a lot of interests we share with Israel.”
This is the first time in Saudi history that such a statement has been made.
It follows hard on the Saudi decision to allow Air India to fly to Tel Aviv through Saudi airspace, as well as a November meeting between Palestinian Authority dictator Mahmoud Abbas and the Saudi regime that ended with Salman proposing a peace plan that would give Palestinians a state “but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants,” according to The New York Times.
Clearly a thaw is taking place between Israel and the Saudis. Part of that is undoubtedly their common interest in stopping the rise of the Iranian empire that now stretches from Iran through Syria and to Lebanon, and which could soon encompass Yemen. But part of it is also savvy diplomacy from President Trump’s special advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. According to CNN, Kushner and Salman “have fostered a close relationship for months.” Kushner’s efforts on that front may have helped undercut the possibility of serious Arab violence in the wake of the Trump Administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in Israel. Kushner reportedly brokered that outcome by working around Rex Tillerson’s State Department.
Salman’s statement is another win on this front for the administration and for Kushner in particular. And the possibility of a Saudi-Egyptian-Jordanian-Israeli alliance in the Middle East is looking stronger than ever.