Saudi Crown Prince says Israel normalization getting ‘closer’
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Wednesday in a rare interview with Fox News that talks on Israel mean the chances of normalization between the two countries “increase every day,” but that the treatment of the Palestinians remains “very important.”
Several media reports have stated that Saudi Arabia is discussing a major agreement with the United States to normalize relations with Israel in exchange for a defense pact and aid in developing its civilian nuclear program. Saudis have said that 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.
“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” the Saudi Crown Prince said on “Special Report with Bret Baier” in an interview conducted in English, adding that there had been “good negotiations” so far.
“We got to see where we go,” the prince 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.”
He also denied reports that the talks had been suspended, saying “Every day, we get closer.”
The interview aired shortly after President Joe Biden met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while both were in New York for the meeting of the U.N.. General Assembly. Biden raised concerns about the far-right Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and urged Netanyahu to take steps to improve conditions in the West Bank at a time of heightened violence in the occupied territory.
Netanyahu’s office said the meeting “mostly dealt with ways to establish a historic peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could greatly advance an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and facilitate the establishment of an economic corridor to link Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.”
Asked during the interview about working with someone as conservative as Netanyahu, Prince Mohammed said: “If we have a breakthrough, reaching a deal that gives the Palestinians their needs and (making) the region calm, we’ve got to work with whoever’s there.”
Prince Mohammed was also questioned about the possibility of Iran eventually building a nuclear weapon and said “We are concerned of any country getting a nuclear weapon” and that if Iran were to get one, Saudi Arabi would seek to do the same: “We will have to get one.” This has worried nuclear non-proliferation experts, who say that the U.S. granting the Kingdom the ability to enrich uranium itself could fuel a regional arms race.
Prince Mohammed has given very few interviews to Western media outlets, particularly since the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist.
He said on Fox News Channel of Khashoggi’s killing “We tried to reform the security system to be sure that these kinds of mistakes don’t happen again.”
“It was a mistake. It was painful,” the crown prince said while insisting that “everyone involved” served jail sentence.
Prince Mohammed was also asked about Jared Kushner, an ex-White House adviser and former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law who secured a $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to jump-start his new private equity firm. The prince said, ‘We look for global investment opportunities and that PIF keeps its commitments to investors — planning to do so even if Trump wins another term as president next year.
The prince’s far-reaching social reforms transformed the Kingdom from an ultraconservative state governed by a strict form of Islamic law to an aspiring entertainment powerhouse, investing billions of dollars in everything from top soccer stars and golf tournaments to video games.
Biden, who had vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the Khashoggi killing while campaigning for president in 2020, has since bowed to that reality, patching up relations with the crown prince while seeking his help in controlling oil prices and managing other regional issues.
Prince Mohammed said during the interview that “the agenda between Saudi Arabia and America today is really interesting” describing his country’s relationship with Biden as “really amazing.”
He was also asked about critics who have accused Saudi Arabia of investing heavily in golf and other sports in attempted “sportswashing,” or spending to improve the Kingdom’s political image abroad. The prince said he wasn’t bothered by such charges and if sports investments continue to grow Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product significantly, then his country would “continue to do sportswashing.”