The landmark Abraham Accords that Israel has struck with two Gulf states are an opportunity for the Palestinians and do not come at their “expense,” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said Sunday.
The UAE and Bahrain broke decades of Arab consensus with their move, condemned as a “stab in the back” by Palestinian leaders for abandoning the position that there would be no relations with the Jewish state until it made peace with the Palestinians.
But at a regional security conference in Manama, Ashkenazi said that the diplomatic shift could help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, after talks between the two sides were frozen in 2014.
“The Abraham accords do not come at the expense of the Palestinians. Quite the opposite, they are an opportunity that should not be missed,” he said in a virtual address.
“I call on the Palestinians to change their minds and enter direct negotiation with us without preconditions. This is the only way to solve this conflict,” he said.
“We believe as Israel moves from annexation to normalization, there is a window to solve this conflict,” he said, referring to its agreement to put annexation plans on hold in return for the normalization deal.
The United States, which brokered the Abraham Accords, has been intensively negotiating for more Arab nations to come in board, notably Saudi Arabia, the biggest Gulf power.
– Saudi to sign up? –
Mutual concern over Iran has gradually brought Israel and Gulf nations closer, and there were reports last month that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had held secret talks in Saudi Arabia, fueling speculation a normalization accord could be in the making.
Riyadh, however, denied that the meeting, reportedly between Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had occurred.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told AFP in Manama Saturday that the kingdom’s position remained resolute.
“We’ve been quite clear that in order for us to proceed with normalization we will need to see a settlement of the Palestinian dispute and the formation of a viable state of Palestine along the lines envisioned in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative,” he said.
“Without a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis we are not going to see true peace and stability in the region.”
Asked whether that effectively ruled out the establishment of ties with Israel any time soon, he said he was “optimistic that there is a path towards a resolution between the Palestinians and Israelis.”
However, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi former intelligence chief who is said to be close to the top leadership, gave voice to the strong support that the Palestinian cause still has in the region, with a fiery presentation to the Manama meeting.
He accused Israel of depicting itself as a “small, existentially threatened country, surrounded by bloodthirsty killers who want to eradicate her from existence.”
“And yet they profess that they want to be friends with Saudi Arabia,” he said, outlining a history of forcible eviction of Palestinians and destroyed villages.
“You cannot treat an open wound with palliatives and painkillers. The Abraham Accords are not divine writ.”