Saudi Arabia has flatly rejected a US call for a “step-by-step” approach toward Israel, urging greater focus on whether Tel Aviv will keep its side of the bargain.
“Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and — we believe — will not lead to peace,” the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Friday.
“The question is not what the Arab world will offer… The question really is: what will Israel give in exchange for this comprehensive offer,” he added, drawing attention to the need to address core issues like Palestinian statehood and refugees.
Prince Saud was referring to a Saudi-sponsored initiative proposed by Arab League states, which promises normalization of ties with Israel in exchange for withdrawal from all lands occupied in the 1967 war and the creation of a Palestinian state.
“Israel hasn’t even responded to an American request to halt settlements which President (Barack) Obama described as illegitimate,” said the foreign minister.
Asked about what Riyadh would do in return if Israel halted illegal settlement building on Palestinian land, he said that it was “not by making gestures, it is by delving into the real issues” that peace could finally be established in the Middle East.
Faisal said Israel was trying to distract attention from the need to set up a Palestinian state by turning to side issues like academic conferences and civil aviation matters.
“This is not the way to peace,” he said, warning that it would only push the region toward a “maelstrom of instability and violence.”
In a sign of differences between the two allies, Clinton did not address the concerns that Faisal raised, and simply repeated the US call for Arab-Israeli ties.
“We’ve also asked the Arab states, including our friends in Saudi Arabia, to work with us to take steps to improve relations with Israel, to support the Palestinian Authority and to prepare their people to embrace the eventual peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” said Clinton.
In an effort to make the rift between Riyadh and Washington seem less severe, Clinton claimed that they have common views on Iran, brining to mind suggestions by other US officials about instigating animosity towards Tehran as a way to better Arab-Israeli ties.
“[We] shared concerns about the destabilizing role that Iran has played throughout the region and the continued expansion of its nuclear program and its support for terrorism,” she said.
In recent weeks, new hawkish Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored international calls to stop settlement activities which are widely believed to be the main factor hindering Middle East peace process.
Israel continues to build in various parts of the region, dividing it to smaller and smaller segments and forcing Palestinians to cross more checkpoints on a daily basis.
Tel Aviv has raised the number of illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank to 300,000.