Benjamin Netanyahu held secret talks about Gaza and an eventual Palestinian state with Saudi Arabia’s National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan in 2014, it has emerged.
Israel’s Channel 13 News reported the secret meeting this week, outlining how the Israeli prime minister discussed reinvigorating the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
A former fighter pilot, Bandar is firmly part of the Saudi establishment. He was the kingdom’s ambassador to the US for 23 years until 2005, securing the purchase of an advanced US aerial surveillance system despite vehement opposition from the powerful lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
He also has strong links to Britain, having negotiated the £40 billion Al-Yamamah defence deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia. He owns a 2,000-acre country estate in Oxfordshire and his son is married to an aristocratic heiress.
Bandar led Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency until 2014, the year he met Netanyahu, the two men bonding over their common aim of countering Iran – and a shared love of cigars. Both opposed the US strategy towards Iran being pursued at the time by Barack Obama.
News of the meeting, held in a third country, will come as little surprise to Middle East security analysts, who have long reported under-the-radar contact between the two countries, despite them having no official diplomatic relations.
According to Channel 13, Bandar reportedly pressed Netanyahu on the plans to reconstruct Gaza but the talks stalled when Netanyahu rejected the proposals.
Bandar has said he believes former Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat did the Palestinian people a disservice by not agreeing terms agreed during the presidency of Bill Clinton.
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