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Saudi Prince turns down offer to visit the Knesset

The former Director of the General Intelligence of Saudi Arabia Prince Turki Al-Faisal has turned down an offer made ​​by the Israeli former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin to visit the Knesset and present the Saudi peace initiative, saying emotions do not serve the peace process.

Prince Turki, who currently chairs the Board of the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, and Yadlin, who runs the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, addressed regional issues and the peace process during a debate organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States yesterday and was mediated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in Belgium.

On the peace process Yadlin said that many of the region's problems including "poverty, unemployment, civil wars and conflicts and sectarian killings in Syria" do not have anything to do with Palestinian-Israeli conflict, adding that chances for peace will remain difficult as long as the leaders on both sides "cannot command their people to it". He called for "alternative plans that bring both sides to a better opportunity" to be considered.

Yadlin remarked on the proposed Saudi Arabian peace initiative saying: "We have no problem with the Saudi Arabian peace initiative; the problem is that it has turned to an initiative which the Arab League wants to force us to sign."

Prince Turki said that proposing the initiative is a major step forward, especially as Egypt was boycotted by the majority of Arab states after it signed a peace agreement with Israel decades ago, and Arabs refuse to use the name of Israel instead referring to it as the "alleged entity".

Prince Turki questioned the validity of General Yadlin's remarks saying Israel is the one refusing to adopt peace. He said: "Today we have a peace initiative for the first time so why does Israel not negotiate with Lebanon for example or resolve the issue of refugees, Jerusalem and elsewhere."

Yadlin said most Israelis do not know the terms of the Saudi peace initiative. Addressing the Prince he said: "I offer you to come to Jerusalem and pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque and speak from the Knesset to the Israelis who do not know the Arab initiative."

Prince Turki replied: "I cannot consider the offer and the General knows it and I think that it is important to negotiate seriously and not use emotions to divert attention from the important issues, namely peace. It is the Israeli leadership's duty to inform its people of the importance of peace.

"The Israeli leadership used to say it only wants Arabs to sit with it and discuss peace but today it rejects the peace initiative although it has no security concerns because it possesses nuclear bombs, the General himself has contributed to their construction, and the Arabs are not crazy and they are aware of its [Israel's] military superiority and they do not threaten to launch wars, but to hold the peace.

"Inviting me to speak to the Knesset before the Israeli leaders explain the importance of peace to their people is a waste of time and effort."

Yadlin denied using emotions, saying: "This is not an emotional speech. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to go to Makkah or Jeddah tomorrow. When we see a personal visit from a respectable state to Israel, this breaks the stalemate that we see now."

He said that if both sides did not reach an agreement for the construction of a two state solution it could happen on the ground, despite the fact that some may see that as a unilateral decision by the Israeli side.

Addressing the issue of Iran, Yadlin said Tehran needs only a few months to build a nuclear bomb, expressing pessimism about the course of negotiations with it saying that is a source of concern not only for Israel but for the entire region because it supports the survival of the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and intervenes in Bahrain and Yemen, adding: "My country will do everything it can to make sure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons."

Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia has always called for the Middle East to be a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and addressed the Israeli General saying "Israel has nuclear weapon and this is well known".

On the situation in Syria, the Saudi prince said the situation resembles "a wound that needs to be cleaned" and proposed arming the opposition to "clean the wound" before the international community intervenes later and supports the opposition to rebuild the country and help remove arms from extremist groups which would use it to hit the West similar to what happened in Afghanistan after the war with the Soviets.

He stressed that the Syrian opposition wants to maintain the structure of the state and does not call to bring it down but "to clean it from criminals" and warned of the dangers of "turning our backs" on Syria, saying that it had already happened in Afghanistan.

Yadlin said that there is a need to "neutralise" the support that reaches Al-Assad from abroad.

Regarding the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Kingdom Prince Turki said the decision was "not taken randomly [but] after observing and thoroughly studying the group's activity in the Kingdom and abroad. The Kingdom does not merely want to emerge as supportive of the Egyptian government."

The Saudi Prince concluded: "I have a personal ambition to bring peace and to fulfil my father's last dream to travel from Riyadh to Jerusalem and pray in Al- Aqsa Mosque."

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