Saudi Crown Prince hints at normalisation of relations with Israel


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said in an interview that ongoing negotiations over Israel means the prospects of normalised relations between both countries “get closer” every day but that treatment of Palestinians remains a “very important” issue to be resolved.
Saudi Arabia is discussing a major agreement with the United States in which it would normalise relations with Israel in exchange for a US defence pact and aid in developing its own civilian nuclear programme. The Saudis have said any deal would require major progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state, which is a hard sell for the most religious and nationalist government in Israel’s history.
Widely known as MBS, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader was asked during an interview on “Special Report with Bret Baier” airing Wednesday what it would take to normalise relations with Israel and answered that the Biden administration supports that happening.
“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” he said. In excerpts released ahead of the broadcast, he added that there had been “good negotiations” so far.
“We got to see where we go,” he said. “We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East.”
The prince denied reports that the talks had been suspended, saying “every day, we get closer”.
The interview was airing shortly after President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while both were in New York for the meeting of the UN General Assembly. Biden raised concerns about the far-right Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, urging Netanyahu to take steps to improve conditions in the West Bank at a time of heightened violence in the occupied territory.
Bin Salman has given very few interviews to Western media outlets, particularly since the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, in an operation by Saudi agents that US intelligence says was likely approved by the prince. The prince has denied any involvement.
In the five years since then, the kingdom has shed whatever pariah status it had as focus has shifted to major diplomatic initiatives and progress on Vision 2030, the prince’s wide-ranging plan for overhauling the economy, providing jobs for young people and weaning the kingdom off oil revenues.
Bin Salman was asked if he was worried that Iran could eventually build a nuclear weapon and said that “we are concerned about any country getting a nuclear weapon”.
“That’s a bad move,” he said. “They don’t need to get a nuclear weapon because you cannot use it. Even if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, any country uses a nuclear weapon that means they are having a war with the rest of the world.”
But pressed on if Iran were to get one, would Saudi Arabia seek to do the same, the prince responded, “We will have to get one.”
Saudi Arabia has made major progress in winding down its devastating war with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, this week hosting a rebel delegation in the capital, Riyadh. It spearheaded the return of Syria to the Arab League, and in March agreed to a Chinese-brokered deal to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, its main regional rival.