MbS rejects Netanyahu’s request to meet during secret phone call: Report

The Cradle, May 24, 2023 —

Israel and the US insist normalization with Saudi Arabia will be cinched before the end of the year, despite Riyadh’s ongoing rapprochement with nations like Iran and Syria.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) rejected a request by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet during a secret phone conversation, according to a foreign diplomatic source that spoke with Israel’s N12 news channel.

Ahead of last week’s Arab League summit, Netanyahu and MbS chatted on the phone at least twice in calls made possible by the efforts of Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani.

According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Israeli leader and Saudi Arabia’s ruler discussed the potential of rapprochement before and after last week’s Arab League gathering in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

In addition, the leaders also still need to address the idea of direct flights from the Israeli-occupied areas to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj trip to Mecca.

Israel’s N12 news channel reported that the Saudis gave Israel a set of conditions regarding the Palestinian crisis.

According to the report, these demands include enabling the Palestinian security system to be bolstered at the expense of Israeli military personnel in the occupied West Bank.

MBS also asked for Palestinian security control over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in occupied Jerusalem’s Old City.

Normalization with Saudi Arabia was “not a matter of if, but of when,” Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the Jerusalem Post last week. “We and Saudi Arabia share the same interests,” he added.

According to Cohen, normalization with Saudi Arabia might occur over the next six months to a year. Still, senior Saudi officials have long stated openly that progress between Israel and the Palestinians is required before Riyadh will take that step.

“The Palestinian issue was and remains the central issue for Arab countries, and it is at the top of the kingdom’s priorities,” MbS said during the Arab League summit.

Despite efforts to normalize relations between Israel and its neighbors since the signing of the Abraham Accords, recent negotiations have spiraled into crisis due to violence unleashed by Israeli security forces and settlers against Palestinians.

In March, Saudi Arabia refused Israel’s request to grant entry to Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to attend a UN tourism event to be hosted by the kingdom, according to Israel’s Walla news.

The kingdom also denied visas to an Israeli delegation from the Galilee village of Kfar Kama, in northern occupied Palestine, who were set to attend the summit that started on 12 March.

In January of this year, the kingdom vowed that it would not normalize ties with Israel until a two-state solution is agreed upon, which has been seen by many as an unrealistic and unattainable goal.

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