Saudi Arabia appears to be in the middle of an attempt to rebrand the kingdom as progressive and, judging from the headlines since last year, the strategy appears to be working, at least to some extent.
Last September , the kingdom announced it would finally allow women to drive. One month later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he wanted to return to a “moderate Islam.”
Now, in an interview…the crown prince has acknowledged that Jewish people have a right to their own homeland – long a taboo for the conservative kingdom that was known as a fierce foe of Israel’s creation. The remarks come as the crown prince is seeking closer economic and security ties with Israel.
“Saudi Arabia doesn‘t have a lot of strong allies left who could confront Iran, which is why Israel has become its second-most important military ally, right after the United States,” said Sebastian Sons, an associate fellow with the German Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on Saudi Arabia. “Overall, his remarks are the culmination of a long evolution of Saudi-Israeli ties,” said Sons.
While Saudi Arabia in the past has talked about recognizing Israel in the context of a peace deal with the Palestinians, the crown prince’s straight up acknowledgment that the Jews have a right to a homeland is the clearest statement to date.
On a practical level, Saudi Arabia has de-facto acknowledged that right since at least 2002 when it began sponsoring an initiative to foster a two-state solution – a solution that has also long been supported by the United States, though with different premises. But officially, Saudi Arabia does not recognize the state of Israel.
While Saudi officials made Israel’s withdrawal to its territory before the 1967 Israeli-Arab war a precondition for closer relations in the past, that fundamental demand was not explicitly repeated by the crown prince in the Atlantic interview published on Monday.
“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations,”