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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Prince Turki Al Faisal blasts Benjamin Netanyahu's deception about Arab ties in first Israeli interview

In the first interview with a Saudi royal on Israeli television, the former head of intelligence described the Israeli leader as self-serving

Prince Turki Al Faisal in Abu Dhabi. The National
Prince Turki Al Faisal in Abu Dhabi. The National

In the first interview on Israeli television with a member of the Saudi royal family, former intelligence head and senior diplomat Prince Turki Al Faisal dismissed claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Arab states are warming ties with Tel Aviv.

He said that Mr Netanyahu was a politician with a history for self-congratulation and that any claim that Arab states would establish ties with Israel without “significant concessions” to Palestinians was false.

“Israeli public opinion should not be deceived into believing that the Palestinian issue is a dead issue,” Prince Turki told Barak Ravid, the senior diplomatic correspondent of Israel’s newly-launched Channel 13. “Mr Netanyahu would like us to have a relationship, and then we can fix the Palestinian issue. From the Saudi point of view, it’s the other way around.”

The comments could have repercussions for the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” peace plan being drafted by the American president’s son in law Jared Kushner.

Over the past year, and as recently as Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu has pointed to events to show what he claims are signs of growing ties and relations with Arab states. Many of these centre around shared concerns over Iran.

The former head of intelligence and Saudi Ambassador to London and Washington pointed to previous Riyadh-led peace initiatives. "In 2002, the late Crown Prince Abdullah presented his peace plan – Israel will withdraw from the occupied territories in return for recognition of Israel and normalization," he said. "From day one, Israel did not respond to our peace initiative.

"Israel chooses to ignore all the efforts of Saudi Arabia to make peace and expects Saudi Arabia to put its hand in [Israel’s] hand and go forward on technology, on water desalination, on issues like that. It’s not going to happen," he said.

“Israel has not been very co-operative as far as achieving peace in our part of the world.”

Prince Turki said that the Israeli leader, who is running for re-election in an April vote, was making the claims “for his own purposes”.

“He is a man who runs for election on platforms of ‘look what I have done for you. I have brought you this. I have brought you that'. Just like all politicians.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center left, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center right, talk to the press on the sidelines of a session at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre left, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, centre right, talk to the press on the sidelines of the Peace and Security in the Middle East meeting in Warsaw. AP

But he pointed out that the long-serving Israeli leader had a very negative image in Saudi Arabia “because of what is happening on the ground”.

Mr Netanyahu, a centre-right politician, has courted ties with hardline pro-settler political forces in the country to bolster his rule. He has presided over two Gaza wars, Israeli forces shooting tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Great March of Return since last year, and a significant deterioration in the status of Palestinians or the viability of a future state. Since Donald Trump took office two years ago, settler numbers have boomed and several huge, and for years stalled, illegal sentiments have been pushed forward.

Prince Turki currently holds no official government position but is the Chairman of King Faisal Foundation's Centre for Research and Islamic Studies.

He made clear he was not speaking as a representative of the Saudi state but as a private individual, although he added that he had notified Riyadh ahead of the appearance. He said he was speaking "to get our point across directly to the Israeli people."

Prince Turki reiterated a similar position on possible relations in an interview with Al Arabiya English on Thursday, saying: “There has been no change in the Saudi position. Media and other wishful thinking about Israeli-Saudi cooperation because of the Iranian threat is only that – wishful thinking.”

In the interview Prince Turki was also clear regarding Mr Netanyahu’s claims that the central issue of an Iranian threat to the region was the catalyst for co-operation with Arab states. “We do not need Mr Netanyahu to tell us the dangers that Iran poses,” he said. “We see it on the ground. We see their activities in Lebanon. We see their activities in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Bahrain, even in Saudi Arabia. So why should we wait for Mr Netanyahu to highlight these things? We do not need that.”

The Israeli broadcast on Wednesday evening came just hours after Mr Netanyahu met the Omani foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah on the sidelines of the US-organised Warsaw conference on the Middle East. The prime minister visited Muscat last year making him only the second Israeli leader to visit the sultanate.

The Warsaw meeting brought together representatives of over 60 countries to discuss issues facing the Middle East. Initially dubbed a conference to tackle Iran’s destabilising regional influence, the US agreed to include other issues such as the war in Yemen and toned down the theme of combatting Tehran’s policies.

Mr Ravid’s interview came as part of a series on Israeli-Arab relations. On February 9, the BBC reported that his programme had looked at a classified Israeli Foreign Ministry report which stated Saudi Arabia would not support the Trump administration’s peace plan or establish relations without major concessions to Palestinians.

In perhaps the clearest statement on the chance of official ties between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, Prince Turki said: “In my lifetime – and I do not have a lot left – I do not think I will see a public meeting between an Israeli prime minister and the King or the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Updated: February 15, 2019 02:08 PM

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