Saudi Crown Prince MBS says Israel normalisation getting ‘closer’

In an interview with US broadcaster Fox, crown prince says Palestinian issue still very important to Saudi Arabia.

A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiling
The interview with Fox was the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's first on US TV since 2019 [File: Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace/Handout via AFP]

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has said that his country was moving steadily closer to normalising relations with Israel, following similar moves from other Gulf countries, and amid a big push by the United States for a Saudi-Israeli deal.

“Every day, we get closer,” the crown prince told US broadcaster Fox News, according to excerpts seen by Reuters of an interview scheduled to air later on Wednesday.

The interview with the crown prince, widely known as MBS, came as US President Joe Biden’s administration presses ahead with an effort to broker historic ties between the two countries and its top Middle East allies, a development that could reshape the geopolitics of the Middle East.

The normalisation talks are the centrepiece of complex negotiations that also include possible Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, as well as discussions of US security guarantees and civilian nuclear help that Riyadh has sought.

MBS told Fox’s Special Report programme that the Palestinian issue was “very important” to Riyadh. “We need to solve that part,” he said when asked what it would take to get a normalisation agreement.

“We got to see where we go. We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East,” he said, speaking in English.

US officials have privately touted the potential benefits of a regional mega-deal, which would be a foreign policy win as Biden seeks re-election in November 2024.

MBS also said that if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would “have to get one”.

Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, has long been an adversary of Iran, but relations have improved since Riyadh and Tehran agreed to restore diplomatic relations in March.

Tehran has denied seeking a nuclear weapon, but has been at the centre of international suspicions about its nuclear programme for years.

The broadcast of the crown prince’s comments will follow a meeting between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, in which they pledged to work together towards Israeli-Saudi normalisation.

Both leaders also said Iran could not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.

The interview with Fox’s anchor, Bret Baier, was the first by MBS on US TV since 2019. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in controversy, particularly following the crown prince’s alleged role in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, an allegation denied by Saudi Arabia.

After a week of lead-up interviews with various Saudi government and business leaders, Baier told Fox that he had seen the country undergo “tectonic changes at a scale and pace and degree that no country in modern times has seen”.

“These changes have been positive,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies