Saudi Arabia’s bin Salman recognizes Israel and rejects Wahhabism

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recognized Israel, stressing that Israelis are entitled to their own land.

“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,” said bin Salman during an interview with the Atlantic published on Monday.

“But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations,” he added.

He added that kingdom has no problems with Jews and that “there are a lot of interests we share with Israel.”

He further noted that Saudi Arabia would establish economic ties with the Tel Aviv regime after conflict with the Palestinian Authority is settled.

The announcement is the latest step in the kingdom’s path moving towards normalization of diplomatic relations with the Tel Aviv regime.

On Friday, bin Salman met with the leaders of a number of pro-Israeli lobbying groups during his tour of the United States.

According to a leaked copy of his itinerary, the Israeli Haaretz daily reported that bin Salman had conferred with officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Stand Up for Israel (ADL), the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Presidents’ Conference, B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

But now Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — speaking to the editor-in-chief of US news magazine The Atlantic — appeared to put the rival land claims on an equal footing.

The prince was asked by Jeffrey Goldberg whether the “Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland?”

“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation,” said the prince, who is on a three-week US tour.

“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land,” he added.

“But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”

Since 2002, Saudi Arabia has been the main sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative, which envisions a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But no such senior Saudi official is known to have previously accepted that Israel has a “right” to any land beyond the practical need to secure a lasting deal.

If, as expected, the crown prince succeeds his octogenarian father King Salman and ascends to the Saudi throne, he will also become guardian of Islam’s holiest shrines.

But he told Goldberg he had no “religious objection” to Israelis living alongside Palestinians, so long as the main Muslim holy site in Jerusalem — the Al-Aqsa mosque compound — is protected.

“We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.

“This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people.”

‘What is Wahhabism?’

When asked about the Wahhabist ideology, the crown prince told Goldberg “This Wahhabism — please define it for us. We’re not familiar with it. We don’t know about it.”

“It’s a movement founded by Ibn abd al-Wahhab in the 1700s, very fundamentalist in nature, an austere Salafist-style interpretation…,” replied Goldberg, at which point he appeared to have been cut off by the prince.

“No one can define Wahhabism. There is no Wahhabism. We don’t believe we have Wahhabism. We believe we have, in Saudi Arabia, Sunni and Shiite. We believe we have within Sunni Islam four schools of thought, and we have the ulema [the religious authorities] and the Board of Fatwas [which issues religious rulings]. Yes, in Saudi Arabia it’s clear that our laws are coming from Islam and the Quran, but we have the four schools — Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki — and they argue about interpretation.”

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