Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler has said that both Israelis and Palestinians “have a right to their own land,” in a seemingly dramatic policy shift
The comments from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with The Atlantic, could be seen as a prelude to overturning the Sunni Muslim state’s long-held position of refusing to recognise Israel.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel have thawed in recent years, with several low-profile meetings between Saudis and Israelis, spurred by mutual interests and a common enemy, Iran.
But details have largely been reduced to hints from well-connected Israeli commentators, who have suggested that below-the-radar cooperation was ongoing.
This week’s comments from the young Crown Prince, 32, who effectively rules on behalf of his ailing father, King Salman, are by far the starkest example of a change of approach towards Israel in Riyadh.
Bin Salman, who has been behind several news-generating reforms in recent months, including allowing women to drive, has developed a reputation for liberal social policy and a hawkish foreign policy, diving into an ill-fated war in Yemen.
The young leader’s comments on Israel will reverberate around the Gulf, where smaller kingdoms often follow the Saudis’ lead, and Israelis will take heart from his stated opposition to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
In his interview, he described the Middle East in the context of two warring camps, the first being what he termed “the triangle of evil,” incorporating Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadists, the second being so-called “moderate” states such as Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
“In this triangle, they are trying to promote the idea that our duty as Muslims is to re-establish the caliphate, to re-establish the mindset of the caliphate—that the glory of Islam is in building an empire by force,” he said.
“But God didn’t ask us to do this, and the Prophet Muhammad did not ask us to do this. God only asked us to spread the word.”
Asked about the Jewish people’s right to a nation-state, Bin Salman said: “I believe each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and Israelis have the right to have their own land.”