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Saudi Royal Family Divides Over Potential Embrace of Israel


An argument is raging behind palace doors in Saudi Arabia: Now that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have forged ties with Israel, should the kingdom follow suit?

Saudi Arabia’s monarch, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has been at odds with his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, over embracing the Jewish state. The king is a longtime supporter of the Arab boycott of Israel and the Palestinians’ demand for an independent state. The prince wants to move past what he sees as an intractable conflict to join with Israel in business and align against Iran.

When President Trump announced on Aug. 13 that Israel and the U.A.E. were normalizing diplomatic ties, the deal stunned the 84-year-old king, who had just begun his summer holiday, according to people familiar with the matter, including Saudi advisers. His son wasn’t so surprised.

Prince Mohammed feared his father might block a deal that didn’t do enough to advance the cause of Palestinian statehood, those people said. If the king of Saudi Arabia, the biggest economy in the Middle East and the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, didn’t support it, the neighboring Emiratis would be hard-pressed to move ahead. Prince Mohammed didn’t tell his father about the planned accord, which didn’t mention Palestinian statehood. Israel agreed only to suspend plans to annex parts of Israeli-occupied territory in the West Bank in return for diplomatic recognition from the U.A.E.

A furious King Salman later ordered his foreign minister to restate the kingdom’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state, without mentioning the normalization deal. A royal family member close to him wrote an op-ed in a Saudi-owned newspaper reiterating that position and implying the Emiratis should have pressed the Israelis for more concessions.


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