Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, has defended his frequent and public meetings with senior Israeli officials at an event in a New York synagogue yesterday, according to Al Jazeera.
Speaking alongside a former director of Mossad, Efraim Halevy, Al-Faisal thanked the Israel Policy Forum for hosting him and expressed hope that it would not be his last meeting of its kind.
“We have to talk to those we disagree with, not necessarily with our agreement, especially if we have a point of view in which we try to convince others, such as the question of peace in Palestine, where there is a difference of opinion between the Arabs and the Israelis,” he said.
Although Al-Faisal ruled out that the Saudi government had entered into a secret deal with Israel over their mutual fear of Iran, he emphasised that it was an issue that united them in concern, reinforcing the importance of open relations between the two states.
“There is no such under-the-table engagement between Israel and these Arab countries. What is needed is on the table, not under-the-table,” Al-Faisal emphasised.
Halevy reciprocated his fellow speaker’s sentiments, praising Saudi Arabia’s efforts at bringing Israeli-Arab viewpoints closer together.
“It should not be remarkable to see former Israeli and Saudi spymasters sharing a stage, yet it is a sign of how both sides are slowly allowing what has been a behind-the-scenes relationship to emerge in small ways,” said Michael Koplow, an organiser of the event.
Rumours of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Israel have caused controversy in recent weeks; it remains a proposal that has repeatedly been rejected by the Saudi public.
On Friday, Israeli officials confirmed that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman had secretly visited Tel Aviv in September. Such a suggestion had been vehemently denied by prominent Saudi officials, who insist that settling the Palestinian issue must take place before any normalisation of relations.
However, the Saudi delegation avoided condemning Israel at the United Nations last month, calling only for the implementation of two-state solution as agreed upon by the international community. The lack of mention of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the use of the word “conflict” instead of occupation, was considered as a move meant to soften Tel Aviv.
Last month, leaked documents by the Twitter account Mujtahidd spoke of the country’s plans to “accept Israel as a brotherly state”, causing widespread controversy. The rumours were again denied by state officials. But recent months have witnessed an informal economic rapprochement between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, with former Saudi businessmen and former senior officials visiting Israel.
Israel has supported the current blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on Qatar. Tel Aviv has repeatedly called on Doha not to host prominent Palestinian figures, which is now a view shared by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.