Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Comments by a well-connected former major-general in the Saudi military who said Tuesday that Riyadh would establish an embassy in Israel if it accepted the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative failed to elicit an official response from Jerusalem.
Anwar Eshki, who met publicly in June with Dore Gold just before the latter was appointed director-general of the Foreign Ministry, was asked during an Al Jazeera interview how long it would be before Saudi Arabia would open an embassy in Israel “You can ask Mr. Netanyahu,” Eshki replied. “If he announces that he accepts the initiative and gives all rights to Palestinians, Saudi Arabia will start to make an embassy in Tel Aviv.”
The Prime Minister’s Office had no response.
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative called for a two-state solution based on an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines and making east Jerusalem the Palestinian capital in return for “normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel.”
The initiative also called for the “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.”
In the Arab world, that resolution is viewed as enshrining a Palestinian refugee “right of return” to places in Israel they or their ancestors fled from or were driven from during the 1947-1949 War of Independence.
Netanyahu articulated his position on this plan in a 2014 interview with The Jerusalem Post, saying that the initiative was drawn up at a significantly different time in the Middle East, and is no longer relevant.
He has not voiced any different position on this plan since then.
“The question is not the Saudi peace initiative,” Netanyahu said, when asked if he would accept the proposal. “If you read it carefully, you’ll see it was set up in another period, before the rise of Hamas; before Hamas took over Gaza; before ISIS [Islamic State] took over chunks of Syria and Iraq, effectively dismantling those countries; before Iran’s accelerated nuclear program.”
He also said the plan, which called for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre- 1967 lines – including returning the Golan – was drawn up “before the takeover of Syria by al-Qaida on the Golan Heights.”
Netanyahu held a high-profile meeting of his cabinet on the Golan on April 17 and declared that the region would forever stay in Israeli hands, a declaration the UN Security Council rejected on Tuesday.
Eshki, in the Al Jazeera interview, deflected one of the interviewer’s statements that he and Saudi government were willing to take military action in Yemen but never physically protect Palestinians in Gaza “when they are being bombed.”
“I told the Iranians about that. ‘You support the Palestinians by weapons, but we support them with money,’” Eshki responded. “When we support the Palestinians with money, we want them to live well, and you give them weapons to destroy themselves.”
Later, Eshki was asked: “How do you think Palestinians feel when they hear you refer to Benjamin Netanyahu as a strong leader and a logical leader?” He answered: “I talked about a strong leader and logical leader because it does not mean strong against Arabs. I said he is strong in his country.”
Eshki, 73, is the chairman of the Jeddah-based Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies and a former consultant of the Saudi prince and ambassador in the US, Bandar bin Sultan.
Prior to the public meeting with Gold in New York, Eshki held half a dozen meeting with him in various capitals.
In August, Eshki told The Wall Street Journal that “the main project between me and Dore Gold is to bring peace between Arab countries and Israel. This is personal, but my government knows about the project.
My government isn’t against it because we need peace.”
Another public meeting of representatives no longer holding formal governmental positions from the two countries is to be held next month at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, when Prince Turki al-Faisal, longtime steward of Saudi Arabia’s national security establishment and former Saudi ambassador to the United States, and Yaakov Amidror, former head of the National Security Council, will speak together. The lecture title is, “Common Interests, Collective Wisdom: Confronting Challenges in The Middle East.”
This meeting comes amid persistent reports of backroom Israeli- Saudi security cooperation forged out of common regional interests.
Two weeks ago Egypt ceded two strategic islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba – Tiran and Sanafir – to Saudi Arabia in a move that Israel was apprised of in advance.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at the time there would be “no direct relationship” between his country and Israel following Egypt’s handing over the two islands. However, he stressed that Saudi Arabia is committed to international treaties involving the two islands.
“There are agreements and commitments that Egypt has agreed to regarding these islands, and Saudi Arabia is abiding by these commitments without having a relationship or communication with Israel,” he said.