Malcolm Hoenlein after visit to Saudi Arabia: Muslim countries want relations with Israel

Watch: Conference of Presidents Executive VC speaks about visit to the Arab country and tour through Hezbollah tunnels

Yoni Kempinski, Jerusalem ,

Malcolm Hoenlein
Malcolm Hoenlein
Yoni Kempinski

At the 46th Annual Leadership Mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein told Arutz Sheva about the diverse composition of conference speakers, and a stop he made in Saudi Arabia en route to the conference to continue the delicate yet vital contacts that have been cultivated in the Arab world: "We have not talked much about it because it's part of the understanding, and our interest is in building a long-term relationship, and that is based on confidence - that they can talk to us at the highest level of their government, and know that we will treat it with the appropriate confidence. It's nice to get headlines, but it's more appropriate to build the relationship.

"So we met the highest level top government officials, in very open and meaningful discussions and makes us optimistic about the possibilities for the future. It's not automatic, we know that. But we have visited over the past twenty-five years many Arab countries, we're the first to visit in some instances, opening the way for Israeli officials to come.

"We do not see ourselves as representatives of Israel, we are an American Jewish community. We try to play a constructive bridge-building role, and I think that happened this past week. The fact that we had kosher meals for four days, that we had a minyan there, and we heard about the intentions to build and make change."

Hoenlein calls such contacts "a necessity, not just an opportunity. And it should be a priority, from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, and many Muslim countries beyond the Arab countries who are anxious to have relations, who deal with us because it's easier than to have direct relations with Israel, but they are moving more and more into quiet relationships, and sometimes even open encounters.

"We began a Mediterranean initiative ten years ago that we now see in the Cyprus-Greece-Israel relationship, and many other countries coming to us wanting to be part of this.

"The same thing we see now in the Arab world. It's not going to be easy, it's not automatic. There are important issues, especially the Palestinian issue, although the leadership is tired of it and wants to get past it, they recognize the sensitivity. So there are immense opportunities, just at the commercial level, what could be done. The new city that Saudi Arabia plans to build will be right opposite Israel, so from Aqaba to Sharm el Sheikh, with Israel right in the middle, together with a city the area the size of Belgium growing up right across the sea from them - and that's only one of many. As Arab leaders tell us, Israel drives innovation in the region, and Israel has all the things we need, and we offer much to Israel."

Noting the bipartisan composition of conference participants, Hoenlein stressed organizational political neutrality: "We want to be clear that we're not here to get involved in the election process. We're Americans, we don't vote, here it's up to the people of Israel to make the decision. But we want to understand the dynamics, what's happening... We don't relate because of individuals or parties. We relate because of the common interests, the values, our heritage, homeland, the ties of American Jews to Israel, and frankly the ties of America is not just bound by any particular time or individual or party; the chemistry can be better or worse, but the fundamentals are strong. Even amongst elements that we talk about now that are concerned, fundamentally when there's a vote in Congress, four-hundred members support an anti-BDS legislation, overwhelmingly support aid to Israel."



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