Saudi Arabia is unable to pursue talks about a landmark deal to recognise Israel until there is a ceasefire in Gaza, the kingdom’s ambassador to the United States said Thursday.
“I think the most important thing to realise is the kingdom has not put normalisation at the heart of its policy. It’s put peace and prosperity at the heart of its policy,” Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“The kingdom has been quite clear. While there is violence on the ground and the killing persists, we cannot talk about the next day.”
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, has never recognised Israel and did not join the 2020 US-brokered Abraham Accords that saw its Gulf neighbours Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Morocco establish formal ties with Israel.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has pushed hard for Saudi Arabia to take the same step.
Under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the ageing King Salman, Riyadh had laid out conditions for normalisation, including security guarantees from Washington and help developing a civilian nuclear programme.
In an interview with Fox News in September, Prince Mohammed said that “every day we get closer” to a deal, a;though he also insisted the Palestinian issue was “very important” for Riyadh.
That apparent momentum stalled soon after Hamas launched a large-scale attack on southern Israel on October 7 that resulted in the death of about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
One week later, a source familiar with the normalisation talks told AFP Saudi Arabia had paused the process.
Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel is conducting relentless bombardment and a ground offensive. These have killed at least 24,620 Palestinians, around 70 percent of them women, children and adolescents, according to updated figures from the Hamas government’s health ministry.
Earlier this week, also in Davos, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said Riyadh was still “certainly” open to the possibility of future ties with Israel, but also stressed the need for a ceasefire and the creation of a Palestinian state.
“We don’t see any real sign that any strategic objectives that Israel has claimed are… coming any closer,” he added.
Princess Reema elaborated on the Saudi position on Thursday, saying that “cooler heads must prevail”.
“There’s trauma and pain on both sides. I can’t take that back. But what we can do is ceasefire now.”
The Saudi delegation’s appearance in Davos came amid fears of a regional conflagration, fears that have only grown after cross-border strikes between Iran and Pakistan and US military action targeting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.
Princess Reema said on Thursday she was “profoundly concerned” about escalation that could send the region “back to the stone age”.