Saudi King Stresses Support for Palestinians After Crown Prince Praises Israel

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on December 13, 2017, shows Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (R) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh
Saudi Royal Palace/AFP BANDAR AL-JALOUD

In the wake of a remarkable statement of support for Israel’s right to exist by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reigning King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s steadfast position toward the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

“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,” Crown Prince Mohammed said in an interview published on Monday. His comment was taken as perhaps the strongest statement of support for Israel’s right to exist made by any top Arab leader.

Although the 32-year-old Crown Prince has a nearly unprecedented level and is widely seen as effectively controlling Saudi Arabia, his father King Salman still sits on the throne and remains “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” a position of great prestige in the Islamic world. King Salman also continues to participate in both internal and diplomatic functions, such as offering Saudi Arabia’s official congratulations to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on his re-election Monday.

Although he did go out of his way to express support for the Palestinian cause and emphasize their “right to have their own land” as well, Crown Prince Mohammed’s statement recognizing Israel’s right to exist was seen as going further than official Saudi policy. As Reuters points out, Saudi Arabia has long maintained that “normalizing relations hinges on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state.”

King Salman felt it necessary to not only restate Saudi Arabia’s support for the Palestinians in a public declaration but also to call U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday night, to stress the importance of moving the “peace process” forward and reiterate his kingdom’s support for the Palestinians to have an independent state.

The king’s public declaration of support for the Palestinians notably did not reference Crown Prince Mohammed’s comments directly or convey the impression that King Salman was directly contradicting him. His comments were virtually identical to his address to Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council in December, on which occasion he also denounced President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The Times of Israel notes that relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have improved dramatically in recent years, and some believe even closer ties have been developed behind the scenes, driven by mutual concern about the rising threat of Iran.

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