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Friday, May 17, 2024

Kushner: Saudi Arabia and Israel should “normalise ties”

Trump's son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner said Monday it would be in Saudi Arabia's interest to normalise ties with Israel

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner said Monday it would be in Saudi Arabia’s interest to normalise ties with Israel as the United Arab Emirates has agreed to do.

It would also weaken their common foe Iran’s influence in the region and ultimately help the Palestinians, Kushner told reporters during a telephone briefing.

Kushner urges closer ties

“It would be very good for Saudi business, it would very good for Saudi’s defence, and, quite frankly, I think it would also help the Palestinian people,” Kushner said.

Read more: After deal, UAE and Israel establish phone service between them

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, has been silent on Trump’s surprise announcement last Thursday that the UAE, a close US and Saudi ally, and Israel had decided to normalise relations.

In return, Israel agreed to suspend the annexation of occupied West Bank territories, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the plan was not off the table in the long run.

Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had repeatedly expressed their desire for an independent Palestinian state with economic opportunities, Kushner said.

“What they basically said is that they … want to see the Palestinian people have a state and economic opportunities,” said Kushner, the architect of Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which was wholly rejected by the Palestinians.

The landmark UAE-Israel deal is only the third such accord the Jewish state has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.

Read more: After UAE, Sudan may normalise relations with Israel

Trump said leaders from the two countries would sign the agreement at the White House in the coming weeks.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has said the kingdom will develop relations with Israel once a peace deal has been struck with the Palestinians.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud said on Sunday, “Upgrading relations with Israel will occur only when a peace agreement is signed and is in accordance with Palestinian conditions.”

The comments came shortly after Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s state minister for foreign affairs, said there were “positive elements” in the Trump administration’s plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last month, when the Trump administration unveiled its controversial “deal of the century”, Saudi Arabia was one of the main supporters of the plan.

‘Upgrading relations with Israel will occur only when a peace agreement is signed and is in accordance with Palestinian conditions’

– Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, Saudi foreign minister

Since it was unveiled, the plan has been repeatedly condemned by the Palestinian Authority, Turkey and Iran but praised by Gulf countries along with Egypt.

The heavily-maligned deal allows Israel to keep all of its settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexe about a third of the territory in exchange for a dwarfed, disjointed Palestinian state with no sovereignty over its airspace, territorial waters or borders.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf Arab states have increased their engagement with Israel, raising concerns that they are seeking to normalise ties and sideline the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

As Middle East Eye has previously pointed out, plans have been underway since 2018 to present Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as a peacemaker in the mould of the former Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.

A source told MEE at the time that the Saudi crown prince was “keen” to take on the role.

Common enemy Iran

Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) Bahrain and Oman have welcomed the deal, while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have yet to comment.

Home to Islam’s holiest sites, Saudi Arabia would face sensitive political calculations before a formal recognition of the Jewish state.

Read more: UAE-Israel agreement: a jab at Iran?

“It is in the interest of a lot of these countries from a security point of view and from an economic point of view to have relations with Israel,” Kushner said.

“A lot of GCC countries want to have breakthroughs.

“The more that countries come together like Israel and the UAE… the harder it will be for Iran to divide and conquer.”

Saudi Arabia and Israel have a common enemy in Iran, which most Gulf countries have accused of supporting militant groups in the region.

“If you think about the people who don’t want Saudi Arabia and Israel to make a peace agreement, the number one opponent for that is going to be Iran,” said Kushner.

“That shows that is probably the right thing to do.”

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the UAE’s decision to normalise ties with the Jewish state was a “big mistake” and warned “against opening the path of Israel to the region”.

Read more: Saudi Arabia silent over UAE-Israel deal but covert ties suspected

On Monday, Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of US Naval Forces in the Middle East, said he did not believe the recent UAE-Israel deal “heightens tension”.

“I think it is a tense region where partners need to operate closely together,” Malloy said in a telephone briefing.

AFP with additional input by GVS NewsDesk