Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman generated anticipation of closer ties with Israel this week by suggesting he believes the Jewish people have a right to their own land.
In an interview with US magazine The Atlantic, he said his country “doesn’t have a problem with Jews”, pointing to the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a Jewish woman.
When asked whether he believed the Jewish people had a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland, the crown prince said: “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”
He continued: “We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people. This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people.”
11. So MBS's words are important, even groundbreaking. But some are celebrating him for saying things he didn't actually say, or putting Goldberg's formulations in his mouth. Most of these same people parse such statements far more discerningly when they come from other leaders.— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) April 3, 2018
Prince Mohammad – widely known by his initials MBS – has been at the centre of a reform drive in Saudi Arabia since he became crown prince last year, including permitting women to drive and allowing Israel-bound flights to travel in Saudi airspace.
Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel, described his latest remarks as “important, even ground-breaking”.
“A Saudi leader willing to speak openly of Israel's right to its own land is huge. The possibilities are great. Excitement over the possibilities created by the alignment of Saudi and Israeli interests, and a young, iconoclastic Saudi leader is warranted,” he said on Twitter.
But he added: “let's not get carried away. MBS left himself plenty of wiggle room to hold out for the traditional Saudi position that real recognition of and normalization with Israel will have to await a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. He said it explicitly.”
Saudi Arabia has boycotted Israel since its independence 70 years ago, but analysts say the two countries have been drawn closer together in recent years as a mutual adversary – Shia-led Iran – has become increasingly influential in the Middle East.