As US pushes for Middle East peace, Saudi king Salman reassures allies
FILE- In this Saturday, May 20, 2017 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a bilateral meeting, in Riyadh. Mohammed bin Salman was named crown prince in a sudden royal shake-up in Saudi Arabia early on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, but that is just the latest wild card in days of head-spinning developments in the typically staid Gulf, including the unexpected cutting off of nominal ally Qatar from the powerful Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran firing a missile into Syria for the first time, targeting Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
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Saudi Arabia has reassured Arab allies it will not endorse any Middle East peace plan that fails to address Jerusalem’s status or refugees’ right of return, easing their concerns that the kingdom might back a nascent US deal which aligns with Israel on key issues.
King Salman’s private guarantees to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his public defence of long-standing Arab positions in recent months have helped reverse perceptions that Saudi Arabia’s stance was changing under his powerful young son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, diplomats and analysts said.
Jared Kushner, son-in-law and top adviser to President Donald Trump, says the U.S. peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be announced soon, and the U.S. would press on with, or without, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
This, in turn, has called into question whether Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, can rally Arab support for a new push to end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with an eye to closing ranks against mutual enemy Iran.
“In Saudi Arabia, the king is the one who decides on this issue now, not the crown prince,” said a senior Arab diplomat in Riyadh. “The US mistake was they thought one country could pressure the rest to give in, but it’s not about pressure. No Arab leader can concede on Jerusalem or Palestine.”
Palestinian officials told Reuters in December that Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, had pressed Abbas to support the US plan despite concerns it offered the Palestinians limited self-government inside disconnected patches of the occupied West Bank, with no right of return for refugees displaced by the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967.
Such a plan would diverge from the Arab Peace Initiative drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002 in which Arab nations offered Israel normal ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.
Saudi officials have denied any difference between King Salman, who has vocally supported that initiative, and MbS, who has shaken up long-held policies on many issues and told a US magazine in April that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land – a rare statement for an Arab leader.
The Palestinian ambassador to Riyadh, Basem Al-Agha, told Reuters that King Salman had expressed support for Palestinians in a recent meeting with Abbas, saying: “We will not abandon you … We accept what you accept and we reject what you reject.”