In a recent interview with CNN, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that normalization of ties with Israel would bring “tremendous benefit” to the Middle East region.
Bin Farhan spoke in English during the interview. Below is a transcript of the exchange.
Source: CNN Arabic (You Tube)
Date: April 2, 2021
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I want to talk Israel. Two days before Israel’s election, Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia could be imminent, saying on national radio: “we will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca”. Publicly, the kingdom has not changed its position and says the normalization of ties will only come once there is a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The kingdom though has opened its airspace to Israel since September last year. Of course, the two countries share a common enemy in Iran. How do you see the kingdom’s relationship with Israel evolving short and long term, sir? Is there a deal? Is there a normalization deal imminent?
Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Foreign Minister:
I do not know if it is imminent. It is very much dependent on progress with the peace process. So, there is, of course, a normalization deal on the table. It has been on the table since 2002. It is called the Arab peace plan. And even before that, we had the “Fez initiative” which was presented by the kingdom in 1982, which puts forward the prospect of full and complete normalization with Israel in return for a just settlement to the Palestinian issue.
I think normalizing Israel’s status within the region would bring tremendous benefit to the region as a whole. It would be extremely helpful; both economically but also socially and from a security perspective. Now, that normalization in the region can only be successful if we address the issue of the Palestinians and if we are able to deliver a Palestinian state within the “1967 borders” that gives the Palestinians dignity and gives them their rights. If we can find a path towards that, then I think we can see a much, much safer region and a much more prosperous region, one where everybody can contribute to its success, including Israel.
And you welcome the idea of direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca? You have not just welcomed that, you have agreed to it as a country?
We have not agreed to it but as I said, if we have progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue then you know, we would welcome hopefully Israeli citizens of all faiths in the kingdom, not just Muslims. But you know let us move forward with the peace process first.
What would it take to actually get these flights agreed to? Is it a full peace plan at this point? Because I am thinking that the window here is very, very short. So, is there a sort of watered-down proposal that the kingdom might accept at this point in order to get these sort of issues moving?
I mean right now we are talking about the hypotheticals, so (for me) there is nothing really I can add to it.