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Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat says it won’t recognise Israel without path to Palestinian state


Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat says the kingdom will not normalise relations with Israel or contribute to Gaza’s reconstruction without a credible path to a Palestinian state — a nonstarter for Israel’s government.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s remarks in an interview with CNN broadcast late on Sunday (yesterday AEDT) were some of the most direct yet from Saudi officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who faces mounting domestic pressure over the plight of Israeli hostages, including an angry protest inside a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday — has rejected Palestinian statehood and described plans for open-ended military control over Gaza.
Israeli soldiers move on armoured personnel carriers near the Israel-Gaza border as smoke rises to the sky in the Gaza Strip, seen from southern Israel, Sunday, January 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
The dispute over Gaza’s future — as the war rages with no end in sight — pits Israel against its top ally, the United States, as well as much of the international community, and poses a major obstacle to any plans for post-war governance or reconstruction of the impoverished coastal enclave that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians.
Before the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the war, the US had been trying to broker a landmark agreement in which Saudi Arabia would normalise relations with Israel in exchange for US security guarantees, aid in establishing a civilian nuclear program and progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In September, Netanyahu had said Israel was on “the cusp” of such a deal.

In the interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, the host asked: “Are you saying unequivocally that if there is not a credible and irreversible path to a Palestinian state, there will not be normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel?”

“That’s the only way we’re going to get a benefit,” Prince Faisal replied.

Earlier in the interview, when asked if oil-rich Saudi Arabia would finance reconstruction in Gaza — where Israel’s offensive has caused unprecedented destruction — Prince Faisal gave a similar answer.

More than 100 Palestinian militants left Nir Oz with some 80 of its roughly 400 residents.

Eight weeks on, Israelis bring new focus to hostages taken from Nir Oz

“As long as we’re able to find a pathway to a solution … then we can talk about anything,” he said.

“But if we are just resetting to the status quo before October 7, in a way that sets us up for another round of this, as we have seen in the past, we’re not interested in that conversation.”

The Palestinians seek a state that would include Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital and the West Bank as the historical and biblical heartland of the Jewish people. It has built scores of settlements across both territories that are home to hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers. The last of several rounds of peace talks broke down nearly 15 years ago.

Ela Bahat embraces her husband Idan as they stand next to a picture of their 30-year-old son Dror, right, during an event where friends and relatives are planting trees in memory of their loved ones, on Sunday, January 21, 2024. Dror was killed on October 7 in a cross-border attack by Hamas at the Nova music festival in Re’im, Southern Israel. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

EU pushes for Palestinian statehood

At a meeting about the war on Monday, European Union foreign ministers said the creation of a Palestinian state was the only way to achieve peace and expressed concern about Netanyahu’s rejection of the idea.

“The declarations of Benjamin Netanyahu are worrying. There will be a need for a Palestinian state with security guarantees for all,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Sejourne told reporters in Brussels, where the EU ministers met to discuss the war in Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, also were in Belgium’s capital for the discussion.

The EU is the world’s top provider of aid to the Palestinians, but holds little leverage over Israel, despite being its biggest trading partner. The 27 member countries are also deeply divided in their approach. But as the death toll in Gaza mounts, so do calls for a halt to the fighting.

“Gaza is in a situation of extreme urgency. There is a risk of famine. There is a risk of epidemics. The violence must stop,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

“We demand an immediate cease-fire, the release of the hostages, the respect of international law, (and) a return to the peace process, which must lead to the creation of two states living in peace side by side,” Lahbib said, describing a two-state solution as “the only way to establish peace in a durable way in the region.”

European Union foreign ministers expressed concern about Netanyahu’s rejection of the idea of the creation of a Palestinian state. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

More than 25,000 killed in Gaza

The current war between Israel and Hamas — the fifth and by far deadliest — began when Palestinian militants broke through Israel’s defences and rampaged through several nearby communities, killing some 1200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 people hostage.

Israel’s offensive has killed at least 25,295 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded more than 60,000, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says around two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

Medics reported heavy fighting in the southern city of Khan Younis, saying dozens of dead and wounded people were brought to the city’s already overwhelmed Nasser Hospital.

Palestinians surround a car that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Saturday, January 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Families could be seen fleeing south, to areas already packed with hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The Israeli military says it has killed around 9000 militants, without providing evidence, and blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas because it positions fighters, tunnels and other militant infrastructure in dense residential areas.

Some 8 per cent of Gaza’s people have fled their homes, seeking elusive shelter in the south as Israel continues to strike all parts of the besieged enclave. UN officials say one in four people in Gaza are starving as the fighting and Israeli restrictions hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The war has also stoked tensions across the region, with Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen attacking Israeli and U.S. targets.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, January 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Netanyahu under mounting pressure

Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until “complete victory” over Hamas and to return all of the remaining hostages after nearly half were released in a ceasefire deal in November.

But Israelis are increasingly divided on the question of whether it’s possible to do both.

Hamas is believed to be holding the hostages in tunnels deep underground and using them as shields for its top leaders. Israel has only successfully rescued one hostage, while Hamas says several have been killed in Israeli airstrikes or during failed rescue operations. Those claims could not be independently confirmed.

On Monday, dozens of family members of the hostages stormed a committee meeting in Israel’s Parliament.

“You won’t sit here while they are dying there!” they yelled.

A protester wears a shirt depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempt during a demonstration to demand the release of the hostages taken by Hamas militants into the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday January 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Some had to be physically restrained as they shouted at the lawmakers, and at least one person was escorted out. The meeting was briefly suspended but later reconvened.

Relatives of the hostages, as well as other protesters, have set up a tent camp outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem and vowed to remain until a deal is reached to bring the rest of the captives home. Other protests have called for new elections.

Hamas has said it will only free more captives in exchange for an end to the war and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu has ruled out such an agreement.

The long-serving prime minister, whose popularity has plummeted since October 7, faces pressure from the US to shift to more precise military operations and do more to facilitate humanitarian aid.

But Netanyahu’s governing coalition is beholden to far-right parties that want to step up the offensive, encourage the “voluntary” emigration of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza, and re-establish Jewish settlements there.



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