Israel and Saudi Arabia flags

Settlement of the Al Aqsa issue is a key condition for the establishment of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia,’ says journalist during conference in Jerusalem.

By Baruch Yedid/TPS

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently condemned the “flagrant invasion” by “Israeli settlers” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque square, under “the protection of the Israeli occupation forces.” Such measures, it said, “undermine peace efforts and contradict international principles relating to the holy places.”

In recent years, there has been a rising Saudi interest in Jerusalem’s holy places.

According to Saudi journalist Abdel Aziz Al-Khamis, “Settlement of the Al Aqsa issue is a key condition for the establishment of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Khamis was speaking in Jerusalem, participating in the Israel-Africa-Arab Conference organized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Participants from 30 African and Persian Gulf states discussed the possibilities of expanding the Abraham accords, and increasing cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism, national security, food and water security, and environmental concerns.

Israelis looking to expand peace agreements with the wider Arab world see the Saudis as a key domino. Although the Saudis have not signed the Abraham accords, they gave their blessings to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to proceed in 2020.

Acknowledging that more Arab countries will presumably follow the Saudi lead in normalizing relations with Israel, Khamis implied that Riyadh would like to have a role in Jerusalem’s holy sites.

“After the Abraham Accords, there were many Israelis who thought that Saudi Arabia would be the next country to sign an agreement with Israel,” he said. “Saudi Arabia has a significant role in the Arab and Muslim world and therefore sees critical importance in regulating the holy places for Islam in east Jerusalem. This is a condition for peace and agreements,” he stressed.

Tellingly, Khamis did not refer to the Palestinians. In response to participant questions, he instead said that “security in the Red Sea and a solution to the issues related to Israel’s relations with the countries in Africa, are important pillars of any future agreement.”

Khamis summed up his words and said, “When we come to talk about peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a new approach and a fresh way of thinking must be taken, but in any case, East Jerusalem and the holy places will be at the heart of the agenda from the Saudi side.”

The Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994 enshrines Jordan’s custodian role over the Temple Mount. Jordan oversees and funds the Islamic Waqf, a trusteeship which administers the Temple Mount’s daily affairs.

The Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples were built, is the holiest site in Judaism. The delicate status quo governing it goes back to 1967, when Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War. Fearing a religious war, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan agreed to let the Waqf continue administering the holy site while Israel would maintain overall sovereignty and be responsible for security.