February 13, 2020 / 4:28 PM / 9 days ago

Saudi minister denies any plans for crown prince to meet Israeli PM

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Thursday denied media reports of a possible meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, amid speculation about normalizing ties between Gulf Arab states and Israel.

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman uses his phone during a meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 12, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

“There is no meeting planned between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English website in response to reports that included Israel’s daily Haaretz.

“Saudi Arabia’s policy has been very clear since the beginning of this conflict. There are no relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the Kingdom stands firmly behind Palestine.”

The two countries’ interest in containing Iran have increasingly converged with both viewing Tehran as a main threat, but Saudi Arabia maintains that any relations hinge on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state.

Netanyahu appeared last month at a White House event where President Donald Trump offered a peace plan that proposed creating a Palestinian state but diverged from a 2002 Saudi initiative.

The Palestinian leadership has rejected Trump’s plan, saying it heavily favours Israel and will deny them a viable independent state.

But Gulf Arab states welcomed the U.S. efforts in a move viewed as prioritising close ties with Washington vital to countering Iran over traditional unswerving support for the Palestinians.

In 2017, an Israeli cabinet minister said the country had had covert contacts with Riyadh, and Israel Radio reported that Prince Mohammed had met with officials in Israel, drawing an official Saudi denial.

Netanyahu, who faces criminal corruption charges and is seeking re-election next month, has previously pointed to covert cooperation with Arab states, without naming them.

The longest-serving Israeli prime minister met Sudan’s leader last week during a visit to Uganda and agreed to start normalising relations.

Prince Faisal said Saudi Arabia had always shown a willingness to normalise ties with Israel provided there is “a just and fair settlement” agreed by Israel and the Palestinians.

“Short of that, Saudi policy will remain steadfast,” he added.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Howard Goller

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