Manama - Veteran Saudi diplomat Prince Turki Al Faisal has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of deceiving the Israeli public about peace chances with Arabs.
In an unprecedented interview with an Israeli TV station, Prince Turki, the former head of the Saudi intelligence services and ex-ambassador to the UK and the US, said Netanyahu was alarmingly raising the expectations of the Israeli public by claiming that Israeli ties with the Arab world could become warm regardless of the Palestinians and their cause.
“Israeli public opinion should not be deceived into believing that the Palestinian issue is a dead issue,” Prince Turki told Israel’s Channel 13 news in the interview in London.
“From the Israeli point of view, 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.”
Barak Ravid, the interviewer, asked whether that meant Netanyahu was “deceiving the Israeli public” by claiming to be able to “promote relations with the Arab world regardless of the Palestinians” and Prince Turki replied: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Pressed to explain the reasons that made the Israeli prime minister chose that line, Prince Turki said: “For his own purposes. He’s 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.’ Like all politicians.”
The prince said the Saudi public has “a very negative view of Mr Netanyahu because of what is happening on the ground,” and because of what he termed Netanyahu’s “hubristic attitude… praising himself.”
Netanyahu has regularly claimed that shared concern about Iran is one of the factors helping to gradually warm Israeli ties with the Gulf and other states in the region.
“We don’t need Mr Netanyahu to tell us the dangers that Iran poses. 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 don’t need that,” Prince Turki said, quoted by The Times of Israel in its account of the interview.
Prince Turki said that he would advise the Trump administration, as it prepares to present its “Deal of the Century” peace plan, to take the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and make its own.
The initiative, the brainchild of late Saudi King Abdullah, is “basically a quid pro quo: Israel withdraws from occupied Arab territories, in return for Arab recognition of Israel, end of hostilities and normal relations,” Prince Turki said.
The diplomat deplored that “from day one there has not been an Israeli response.”
“Unfortunately, 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 cooperative as far as achieving peace in our part of the world.”
Prince Turki rejected reports that Saudi King Salman had slowed down the inclination by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to build warmer ties with Israel.
There is no difference between them. Prince Mohammad “is a stalwart representative of Saudi policy” and the idea that there was a warmer stance from him was likely “wishful thinking on the part of Israeli officials,” he explained.
The crown prince “supports the Palestinian cause to the fullest” and has no differences with the king “on any issue. “He does what the king tells him.”
Prince Turki said that the statements and responses made in the interview were in his personal capacity and that he did not represent the Saudi government in the interview with the Israeli station.
However, he added that people in Riyadh as a gesture of courtesy and good manners were made aware of the plan to speak with an Israeli channel.
Prince Turki had never been to occupied Jerusalem and the only time he had an official meeting with an Israeli during his years in government was with president Shimon Peres over dinner in Davos, Switzerland.
The prince said that Peres suggested they hold “more substantive, private talks,” but he refused. “I told him, Mr President, nothing in Israel remains a secret.”
The purpose of the interview with the Israeli station now was “to get the Saudi point across directly to the Israeli people.”
He added that he looked forward “to the day when there is peace between Israel and the Arab world, and I can visit what I consider to be not only a holy place, but a place of my history as an Arab and as a Muslim. Abraham, our father, is not only the father of the Jews. He is the father of the Arabs. Jerusalem is something I want to see before I die. Unfortunately, I’m not too optimistic that I’m going to see that.”
Prince Turki said that he did not expect to see in his lifetime a meeting between an Israeli prime minister and a Saudi king or crown prince.
“I don’t think I’m going to see that. Not before the Palestinian issue is resolved. I am looking for an Israeli peace initiative. I haven’t seen one.”