Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declared he recognizes Israel’s right to land ownership alongside the Palestinians. The 32-year-old influential prince stated that on Monday in an interview with the Atlantic.

“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their land,” bin Salman said.

The young prince also stressed the importance of having a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, to guarantee stability in the region.

The prosperous kingdom state has tried to broker a ten-step peace deal called the Arab Peace Initiative since 2002. Nevertheless, bin Salman is the first leader to openly recognize the right of Israel to land in the war-torn region.

After voicing his support for Israel’s right to land ownership, bin Salman also stressed that he did not have a “religious objection” to Palestinians and Israelis living in harmony in any permanent settlement.

The prince, however, added that any settlement must guarantee protection for the leading Islamic holy site in Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsha Mosque.

History of Saudi Arabia-Israel relationship

While Saudi Arabia does not always agree with Israel over the Palestinian issue, and despite not having official diplomatic ties, both countries have announced strategic economic and military partnerships.

According to a report last January by the Switzerland news agency, Basler Zeitung, both nations secretly maintain ties to block Iran’s influence in the Middle East. The report stated there exists a “secret alliance” between Saudi Arabia and Israel, intended “to restrain Iran’s expansion in the region, despite the absence of any official relations between the two countries.”

The report furthermore elaborated that Saudi Arabia was considering buying weapons from Israel, including tanks and the iron dome which Israel claims is effective in countering rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.

Bin Salman visited Tel Aviv in September 2017. Several media outlets in Israel and Arab nations reported that the prince secretly visited Tel Aviv to have talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite Riyadh’s denial.

Just over a week ago, Saudi opened its airspace for commercial flights to the Jewish nation for the first time in 70 years. The occasion was marked by the arrival of an Air India plane from New Delhi to Tel Aviv. Flightradar also said that the aircraft also flew over Oman, the Arab nation that does not recognize Israel.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called the event a”historic day”.

Saudi Arabia has also never shown strong opposition to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Why now is the prince recognizing Israel now?

The answer lies most likely with Iran. According to Hassan Nafa, a political science professor at Cairo University, Iran is the main reason behind Saudi’s statement. Saudi Arabia considers its competition with Iran one about leading the Islamic world, with fears that it could be dominated by the Shiites under Iran,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have fought to extend their influence in the Middle East, as seen in the recent wars in Yemen and Syria. Riyadh and Tel Aviv both also worry that Tehran could obtain nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia’s acknowledgment could end hostility toward Israel’s existence in the  Middle East, as Yossi Mekelberg, an international relations professor at London’s Regent’s University explained. Fair negotiations are still necessary, but old statements demanding the elimination of Israel could come to an end.

Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel drew mixed reactions from Israelis and Arabs. The former expressed their joy over Saudi’s shocking statement, as an Israeli diplomat Elad Ratson said. He said that bin Salman’s words show support for Israel’s policy in the region.

Meanwhile,  Yasser al-Zaatreh, a Gaza-based writer slammed Saudi Arabia’s statement, saying that “The Zionists have no rights to any part of Palestine.”

 

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