Is Saudi Arabia being lined up by the US to broker talks between Israel and Palestine for a two-state solution?

Recent events are all feeding into conspiracy stories which say that the Saudis have been in on the Jerusalem plan from day one

Anthony Harwood
Wednesday 20 December 2017 13:02 GMT
President Trump met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh earlier this year
President Trump met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh earlier this year (AFP/Getty)

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The writing was on the wall when Donald Trump became the first US president to visit the Middle East on his maiden voyage overseas.

Many saw his decision to sign arms agreements worth £82bn with Saudi Arabia as a tell-tale sign of what the man who wrote The Art of Deal was up to.

One place it most certainly did not go unnoticed was on Arab Street, which always views with suspicion one of its own cosying up to Washington.

So when Trump provoked worldwide anger by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, people began to put two and two together.

As Abraham Lincoln famously said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”.

As if to demonstrate this, a huge flag was unfurled at a pro-Palestinian protest this week showing a face which was half-Trump and half-Salman, the Saudi king.

Underneath the caption read: “Two faces of same coin.”

When they saw the banner at a football match in Algeria, the Saudis were predictably furious. Sami bin Abdullah al-Saleh, the Saudi Ambassador to Algeria, talked about his country’s “annoyance” with the image, saying: “We will look into the authenticity of this image and take the appropriate response.”

Stand by for Saudi claims the banner is pro-Qatar propaganda. But before they do, maybe they should first read what Arab people are saying on Twitter about it.

@aymanarab78 said: “Hey King of Saudi, the people who lifted the banner do not only represent themselves, but most of the Algerian people. Yes, you and Trump are indeed two faces of the same coin in regards to Jerusalem and other Muslim countries.”

@michamimicha5 said: “Didn’t the Mecca Imam say that the US President and Saudi King are working together to solve world peace? That means they are two faces of the same coin. World peace meaning the elimination of Hamas, meaning Gaza, meaning Jerusalem, meaning Palestine.”

@GoFriita simply said: “Who grants the US money each year? Is it us or you? You are the sickness of Muslims and the reason Palestine is the way it is.”

Since 6 December when Trump announced the US Embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Saudis have done little to allay these suspicions of the Arab people.

As if just paying lip service, Riyadh called the Trump decision “unjustified and irresponsible”, but did very little to follow it up.

When Turkey announced a summit of Islamic countries to pass resolutions against the announcement, most Muslim countries sent their leaders to represent them.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) declared East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state, and an integral part of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

Far from sending their leaders, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did not even send their foreign ministers, preferring a summit in Paris on fighting terrorism in West Africa.

Not only that, but as soon as the summit was over they began attacking Turkey and Iran in the strongest terms. Turkey and Iran, not America.

It led to Badr al-Din Habib Oglu, Secretary-General of the Turkish-Arab Institute for Strategic Studies, to say this proved that the Saudis and Emiratis were involved in the US-Israel plan “which revolves around abandoning the Palestinian cause and selling Jerusalem in exchange for strengthening Mohammed bin Salman’s (MbS) rule and the imposition of a new vision in the region”.

But it’s not just the unwillingness of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stand shoulder to shoulder with the 57 other states of the OIC, on an issue that unites the whole Arab world and beyond.

It’s what else has been going on, too; the pictures of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, visiting the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, with tales of how they burned the midnight oil together.

This week Fox News reported that the CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, had been in Saudi for talks with King Salman on “regional developments”.

The same Mike Pompeo who’s been tipped to take over from Trump’s beleaguered Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

Three days before that, an Israeli intelligence minister was inviting MbS for talks, even though the two countries have no formal diplomatic relations.

And a Saudi academic has appeared on the US-based Arabic channel, al-Hurra, to call on Arabs to accept that Israel had a special claim to Jerusalem.

“We have to admit and realise that Jerusalem is a religious symbol for the Jews and that it is just as holy for them as Mecca and Medina are for Muslims,” said Abdulhamid Hakeem.

This is all feeding into conspiracy stories which say that the Saudis have been in on the Jerusalem plan from day one, with MbS emerging as the most likely US-appointed candidate to broker a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Earlier this month, Trump said that in every deal there are winners and losers. Can he really be about to apply his book to the Middle East?

If so, I wonder who will be the losers out of any two-state solution he comes up with.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail

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