Saudi Arabia appears to be in the middle of an attempt to rebrand the kingdom as progressive and, judging from the headlines since last year, the strategy appears to be working, at least to some extent.
Last September, the kingdom announced it would finally allow women to drive. One month later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he wanted to return to a “moderate Islam.”
Now, in an interview with The Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the crown prince has acknowledged that Jewish people have a right to their own homeland – long a taboo for the conservative kingdom that was long known as a fierce foe of Israel’s creation.
While Saudi Arabia in the past has talked about recognizing Israel in the context of a peace deal with the Palestinians, the crown prince’s straight up acknowledgement that the Jews have a right to a homeland is the clearest statement to date.
On a practical level, Saudi Arabia has de-facto acknowledged that right since at least 2002 when it began sponsoring an initiative to foster a two-state solution – a solution that has also long been supported by the United States, even though with different premises. But officially, Saudi Arabia does not recognize the state of Israel.
While Saudi officials made Israel’s withdrawal to its territory prior to the 1967 Israeli-Arab war a precondition for closer relations in the past, that fundamental demand was not explicitly repeated by the crown prince in the Atlantic interview published on Monday.
“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. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations,” he told The Atlantic.
The timing for the acknowledgment does not appear to be a coincidence, as it follows months of diplomatic gestures, including the opening of Saudi Arabia’s airspace to commercial Israel-bound flights and the acknowledgment of backchannel communications between both governments.
After decades of threatening rhetoric, Saudi officials appear increasingly willing to strike a carefully conciliatory tone as they seek a new ally to confront their common arch enemy Iran and build stronger economic ties.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Rick Noack