Negotiations for an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia continue behind closed doors. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen have had numerous telephone conversations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since last Monday. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani is the mediator, according to Israeli sources. And the Israeli sources are based on Saudi sources. The negotiations are complex. US President Joe Biden is putting pressure on both sides, and Netanyahu is expected to present his vision. Israel’s Government Press Office does not want to comment on this.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has arrived in Manama, Bahrain, and from there, through the mediation of Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, is leading talks with Jerusalem. The Saudis chose Bahrain to mediate the deal with Israel. For its part, according to Israeli sources such as the N12 news portal, the Saudi palace is setting clear conditions for an agreement with Israel, including concessions to the Palestinians.
The Saudis insist on Israel making open gestures to the Palestinians, including relinquishing Israel’s security administration in Judea and Samaria, in favor of strengthening the Palestinian security apparatus. The Saudis are also calling for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to be given more control over Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Jewish Western Wall is to remain under Israeli control. For years, Riyadh has tried to exercise more influence over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. At first they proposed taking full control of it, but the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan vetoed it.
So far, only one voice in Jerusalem has approved talks with the Saudi crown prince. “We’ll know where it’s going in the coming weeks. We don’t need Bahrain as a mediator, as the Saudis are demanding, we get along well with the Americans.” Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that Foreign Minister Al Zayani spoke to Cohen by telephone. “During the call, both reviewed the bilateral relations between the countries to realize common interests,” it said. Bahrain also added that the two discussed the political situation in the Middle East and emphasized the importance of building security, peace and stability in the region. Saudi sources have also told Jerusalem that the new relationship with Iran will not affect normalization.
Although the normalization negotiations with the Saudis are complex, the efforts will bear fruit. This is what is expected in Jerusalem. This is intended to open an official bridge for the Israeli economy to the Persian Gulf, including direct airline flights, technology cooperation and tourism in the oil-rich country. In the meantime, direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mecca are to be permitted until the next Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. But this only for Arab citizens of Israel.
Israel’s tourism expert Yossi Fisher, the only Israeli to attend the major tourism conference in Saudi Arabia in December, pointed to the possibility of normalization with Saudi Arabia. “The vision of the Crown Prince, Prince bin Salman, is based on the development of the tourism industry in the kingdom.” According to Fisher, it is about developing an alternative source of income to oil as the world switches to green energy. In addition, tourism will create millions of jobs for Saudi women and young men. The majority of the Saudi population is young, with around 70% under the age of 35. “To that end, the kingdom is investing a whopping $6 trillion in realizing the construction of tourism infrastructure by the target date of 2030,” added Fisher. “Half a million hotel rooms, 5 giga projects worth hundreds of billions of dollars each, dozens of smaller projects worth several billion dollars and 27 new airports.” In this area, as well as in the field of technology, Israel plays an important role.
As the custodian of Mecca, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia feels a responsibility for the Islamic world and thus also for the Palestinian problem. But on the other hand, Saudi Arabia benefits much more from a close relationship with Israel. That is why Riyadh is loudly insisting on its demands for the Palestinians. But behind closed doors, the Saudis want to use Israel’s knowledge and technological developments to turn the country around. This is a spiritual and political tension that Riyadh and Jerusalem must resolve. One thing is for sure, and we’ve written about it a number of times in recent years, the Arab governments are becoming less and less interested in the Palestinian problem, which is pushing the Palestinians to make headlines with attacks on Israel.
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