Saudis stick to terms of Arab peace plan

'Post' speaks to Al-Faisal, new Saudi ambassador to the US, in rare interview.

saudi al-faisal 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
saudi al-faisal 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Saudi Arabia would be willing to normalize relations with Israel only after the Israelis adopt the Arab League peace initiative, which calls for full withdrawal to the 1967 lines. The new Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that the prospect of diplomatic relations between the two countries depended only on the actions of the government of Israel. "As I mentioned, the peace initiative, the Arab peace initiative, the Abdullah peace initiative, envisions all that [full diplomatic relation]. Once there was an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory, there would be normalization of relations, the Saudi ambassador told the Post following a speech in Washington. Up to now, the Saudi officials, in the US and around the world, refused to talk to Israeli journalists, and the Saudi embassy would not accept calls from representatives of Israeli media. Washington sources close to the Saudi representatives said it was the policy of the Saudi government not to have any contact with Israelis. However, it was not clear if the willingness of the new ambassador to answer questions presented by the Post signaled any change in that policy. Al-Faisal last month replaced Prince Bandar Al Sultan, who had served for over a decade and was considered a close friend of the Bush family and of former president George H.W. Bush. In his speech at the annual conference of the Middle East Institute, which was his first public appearance in the US, the new ambassador stuck to a critical line concerning Israel and refused to condemn the Iranian president's remarks calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, saying that Saudi Arabia preferred to talk directly to the Iranians and not to deal with the issue publicly. According to Al-Faisal, "Nothing has done more to damage Western and Islamic relations than the uneven handling of affairs between Israel and the Palestinian people," adding that "it is this cause above all others that has given lifeblood to this evil cult of hate that has fed the followers of Al Qaida." The ambassador called for immediate international intervention to reach a solution to the conflict, based on the Saudi initiative that was later adopted by the Arab League. The plan promised full normalization between the Arab world and Israel in return for full withdrawal of Israel from the territories. Israel has refused to adopt the Saudi plan. In his speech, the ambassador claimed that American policy in the region was skewed in favor of Israel. "But in committing itself to work for peace in this region, America must be even-handed," he said, "They must look for a just solution, not only for the sake of the Palestinians and Israelis, but for the sake of the world community."