Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seriously considering a summit meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with US President Donald Trump playing host, a report says.
The meeting between bin Salman, also known as MbS, and Netanyahu is to be a “game-changing” Camp David-style one, the Middle East Eyesaid in a report.
Bin Salman has asked an emergency task force dealing with the fallout of the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to study the idea of a meeting with Netanyahu, sources in the kingdom with close knowledge of the discussions told Middle East Eye.
Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported in June that bin Salman and Netanyahu had held secret meetings in Amman both with and without the presence of Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have held secret meetings in Jordan, Israel’s Maariv newspaper reports.
However, the sources say the idea of exchanging a handshake with Netanyahu has divided a Saudi task force, which includes intelligence, army, media and foreign office officials and political advisers.
“Some voiced concern about the consequences of this on the Arab and Muslim world,” the source said.
Others in the task force were more enthusiastic. “They thought that the Arab Spring is so divided, and that things are under control,” said the source, referring to the political forces connected to the so-called Arab Spring movement, who would strongly object to the normalizing of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The task force noted the absence of any real reaction on the Arab street to the recent visits of Netanyahu and Israeli ministers and athletes to the Persian Gulf states of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.
They also thought they could control reaction inside the kingdom by “using the religious authorities to justify it”, the source said.
“MbS is keen on the idea. He comes from a new generation and does not feel the weight of history on his shoulders. He has shown this repeatedly. He has no particular sympathy with the Palestinian cause,” the source added.
The final recommendation of the task force was to ask for more time to prepare the public opinion.
The plan is to present the crown prince, who is accused of being behind Khashoggi’s murder, as a so-called Arab peacemaker in the mould of the former Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.
Sadat shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin in 1978 in a meeting hosted by US President Jimmy Carter at Camp David, the president’s country retreat.
Bin Salman believes that the photo opportunity alone would be big enough to influence the upcoming and inherently more hostile US Congress in January as he has faced unprecedented criticism in Congress from both US political parties over the Saudi war on Yemen.
On Thursday, the Senate voted to stop US armed forces from supporting Saudi Arabia in its military aggression against its impoverished southern neighbor.
The historic bipartisan vote, for the first time, invoked Congress’ war powers to challenge US military involvement abroad despite the Trump’s unwavering support for the Saudis in the war.
US senators also unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution naming bin Salman as responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
The report of bin Salman’s move came shortly after Netanyahu reiterated his support for the Saudi regime, saying criticisms of the murder of Khashoggi should not go as far as posing a risk to the kingdom’s stability.
Speaking to foreign journalists on Wednesday, Netanyahu said Khashoggi’s early October assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was “balanced by the importance of Saudi Arabia and the role it plays in the Middle East.”
“What happened in Istanbul is nothing short of horrific. But it’s balanced by the importance of Saudi Arabia and the role it plays in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said. “Because if Saudi Arabia would be destabilized, the world, not the Middle East, will be destabilized.”
The idea of a meeting with the Netanyahu leader has reportedly been floating around for some time. The Israelis and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy, had asked for it even before the Khashoggi crisis kicked in, the Saudi source said.
“The aim of the ‘Deal of the Century’ is to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. But there was not talk about a specific day or date,” the source said, referring to the Trump- and Saudi-backed peace plan for Palestine.
Saudi Arabia does not officially recognize Israel and has no formal ties with the Tel Aviv . However, the two sides have been widely reported to have cooperated secretly for years.
The warming of Riyadh-Tel Aviv relations has gathered pace since June 2017, when bin Salman became the crown prince and the kingdom’s de facto leader.