Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addresses the nation on the disengagement from Gaza, August 15, 2005.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“In light of Saudi Arabia’s central status in this region, and your Majesty’s political wisdom and foresight, we believe that your country can make an immense contribution to the success of this [peace] process,” Israel’s prime minister wrote the Saudi king in reference to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Amid all the current talk in Jerusalem about a unique confluence of interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia, one could think that this letter was written in recent days by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Saudi King Salman.
But one would be mistaken.
These words were written on November 27, 2005, by Ariel Sharon, and given to a Jew born in Iraq who lived abroad named Moshe Peretz who delivered them to then Saudi King Abdullah, thanks to a good relationship he developed with the king’s brother-in-law.
Peretz turned to the Prime Minister’s Office and offered his services in relaying a message to the king. On December 3, 2005, the king’s brother-in law-called Peretz and said the letter was personally delivered.
A framed copy of the letter was presented to the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Museum in Or Yehuda at a ceremony earlier this month.
The letter was written three years after the Saudi led Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, and puts to rest the popular notion that Sharon never responded to the Saudi plan. The letter was written just over three months after the Sharon-led withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and just three weeks before he was felled by his first stroke.
“As a peace-seeking nation, Israel has been known to make painful decisions and take far-reaching steps in the interest of peace,” he wrote. “We believe that our recent disengagement from Gaza and Northern Samaria introduced a new and historic opportunity to advance the peace process.
Sharon stated that this was a sensitive and critical period in the region, “as we struggle to preserve the momentum created by the disengagement.
“It is our hope that Saudi Arabia, under your Majesty’s strong leadership, will exert its power and influence to encourage the moderate forces in this region and advance the prospects of peace, stability and prosperity,” he wrote.
“I offer my hand in friendship and hope to have the opportunity to cooperate and work with you personally to advance our mutual goal of peace. I look forward to receiving your response.”
A response never came, and Sharon was soon incapacitated by his two stokes.
At a ceremony at the museum early in the month, Yitzhak Levanon, who served previously as Israel’s consul in Boston and ambassador in Egypt, called the letter an “important historical document,” and proof that Israel worked behind the scenes to move the peace process forward. He also said the letter confirms that there were ties with the Saudis.
The spirit of those ties, and of reports of a growing but still discreet relationship between Jerusalem and Riyadh was in no way evident, however, when Saudi Crown Prince Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef addressed the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.
Before discussing the situation in Syria, Yemen or castigating Iran, the crown prince first excoriated Israel.
“The Palestinian issue remains an ongoing challenge to the United Nations since its inception,” he stated. “Israel continues in its military occupation, terrorist practices and acts of aggression, including its siege and other serious violations of international law, without fear of retribution or accountability.”
He called for an end to “the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, along with the rest of the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Arab Golan, southern Lebanon, which should happen in accordance with the provisions of the relevant United Nations resolutions and the Arab peace initiative, which aims to achieve comprehensive and lasting peace to this conflict.”
According to bin Nayef, progress in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “seems impossible in the light of the continuation of the Israeli settlement policy, the tampering with the holy city of Jerusalem, ruining the Arab, Islamic and Christian identity of the city, and the heartless policy of repression practiced against the Palestinians people.”
Only after reading off the litany, did he mention the Syrian crisis, which has cost the lives of more than a half million people.
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