A senior Israeli cabinet minister says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a covert meeting in Saudi Arabia Sunday, which would mark a major step forward for Israel in the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia denies the meeting happened.
The meeting was supposedly held between Netanyahu and Prince Mohammed during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
If the meeting did in fact take place, “even if it was in only a semiofficial way – [it] is something of great importance,” said Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Galant in an interview with GLZ Radio.
Saudi Arabia claims U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo is the only person Prince Mohammed met with at the time.
Following the reports of the meeting, the Palestinian Authority expressed its hope that Saudi Arabia will not establish relations with Israel.
“We are aware that the Saudis supported the decisions by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize their relations with Israel. We also believe that the meeting between Netanyahu and bin Salman was not the first of its kind. But we hope that Saudi Arabia is not going to join the normalization train,” said a senior Palestinian official.
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have also spoken out against the meeting, with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad saying the meeting “will encourage the Zionist occupation to continue its malicious aggressive policies in Palestine.”
“We have supported normalization with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Saturday.
Netanyahu has yet to comment on the conflicting reports.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are beginning to hold common regional security interests in the midst of rising tensions with Iran, which some speculate may lead to warming relations.
As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia holds significant influence in the region. If it begins engaging in open diplomacy with Israel, this could change Israel’s standing in the Middle East and create opportunities for diplomatic relations with other Arab nations.