Saudi king scrambles to counter crown prince's Israel remarks

Saudi king scrambles to counter crown prince's Israel remarks
Saudi Arabia's King Salman has reiterated Riyadh's support for Palestinians after his son's comments that Israel had a "right" to its land.
2 min read
05 April, 2018
King Salman has reiterated Riyadh's support for Palestinians despite signs of rapprochement with Israel [Getty]
Saudi Arabia's ruler King Salman has scrambled to counter his son's remarks this week that Israel had a "right" to its land.

In an interview with a US magazine published on Monday, heir apparent Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman appeared to put the rival land claims of Palestinians and Israel on an equal footing.

"I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation," the prince told The Atlantic.

"I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land," he added. 

In response, the king on Tuesday reaffirmed "the kingdom's steadfast position toward the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital", state news agency SPA reported.

He also emphasised the need to advance the peace process in a phone call with US President Donald Trump on Monday night.

Read more: The cautious détente between Saudi Arabia and Israel

The remarks from Prince Mohammad, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, were published just three days after Israeli forces killed 16 Palestinians in one day during a peaceful demonstration along the Israel-Gaza border. The number rose to 17 on Tuesday.

Prince Mohammad's blunt acknowledgment that Israel can exist alongside Palestine was a rare statement from an Arab leader.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations, but in the past two years, a series of statements and reports of covert meetings between Israeli and Saudi officials gives an impression of a rapprochement between the two states.

Both countries see Iran as their biggest outside threat and the United States as their key ally.

Most recently Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to flights bound for Israel.

The Saudi Arabian public and media have previously been heavily critical of Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Recently a number of media outlets have begun painting Israel in a reasonable light while demonising Iran. With an intense crackdown on freedom of expression in the country, it is difficult to gauge how well this turn has been taken in by citizens of the country. 

Any open alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel would signal Riyadh's abandonment of the Palestinian cause, observers have said, despite the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, long seen as a prerequisite for relations between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

In November, a document leaked by Lebanese newspaper close to Hizballah allegedly from the Saudi foreign ministry detailed concessions to Israel including Saudi encouragement of the Palestinians to cede the right of return of their refugees, in return for closer cooperation with Tel Aviv against Iran and Hizballah.

Agencies contributed to this report.