A senior Saudi figure has said that regional peace with Israel is possible in a rare interview to Israeli newspaper daily Yediot Ahronot.
Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is a former Saudi ambassador to the US. He was pictured publicly shaking hands last year with Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, on the sidelines of an international conference. Eshki holds no official office, but is considered to be close to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
In the interview, Eshki said “I assure you, from personal knowledge, that there is now a real opportunity for peace.” He further said: “Everyone around wants to reach an agreement. I can tell you that in the era of the former Saudi king, Abdullah… there was no chance of reaching a comprehensive and true peace. Today, in the era of King Salman, it is possible. The circumstances have changed. The prospects and opportunities have improved immeasurably.”
Eshki indicated that in the past, there was no flexibility on the terms of the Saudi-spearheaded Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes a regional peace settlement in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Eshki said, “I know that Israel has reservations about the peace plan… Some of them can be solved,” adding, “compared with the Saudi position of the previous king… today we can have meetings and deliberations to consider your requests”. Eshki indicated that these include final borders, West Bank settlement blocs, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian claim to a right of return.
Eshki’s comments come after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and incoming Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman both last week endorsed the possibility of a wider regional peace based on the Arab Peace Initiative. Eshki said that following Netanyahu’s statement last week, “it is possible… to reach agreements satisfactory to all parties”. However, he cautioned that “if peace is not achieved during Netanyahu’s tenure… peace will not be achieved at all”.