Saudi Prince calls Israeli PM a liar: 'How can you believe him?'

Prince Turki Al-Faisal spoke at a video conference also attended by Israeli Foreign Minister who expressed his "regret" at remarks.

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Prince Turki al Faisal
Prince Turki al Faisal
CC/Peter A. Iseman

Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a senior member of the Saudi royal family and a former intelligence chief, made remarks strongly critical of Israel at a conference on Sunday in Bahrain, Bloomberg News reports.

Israel’s Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, also participated in the conference via video link, the first Israeli official to speak at the Manama Dialogue, an annual security conference. His participation was made possible in the wake of the Bahrain-Israel treaty signed in September.

Calling Israel “the last of the Western colonizing powers in the Middle East,” Prince Turki lashed out with allegations of duplicitous dealings on the part of Israeli leaders, accusing the Israeli government of “offering friendship” with Saudi Arabia while “unleashing their political henchmen and the media of all countries to denigrate and demonize Saudi Arabia.”

The Prince also protested the notion that his country would make peace with Israel, although he stressed that his opinions were offered in a “personal capacity” and did not necessarily reflect the Kingdom’s official position. Indeed, other Saudi royals have avoided overt criticism of the decisions of the UAE and Bahrain to sign normalization treaties with Israel, and have even criticized Palestinian politicians for their intransigence in moving forward to change the status quo.

“We have heard testimony many times … King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declare that a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and a just solution for Palestinian refugees is the only peaceful option for all of us,” he said, adding, “You cannot treat an open wound with palliatives and painkillers.”

In fact, on the previous day of the conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan expressed similar sentiments, stating that while his government was “completely open to full normalization with Israel … in order for that to happen and for that to be sustainable, we do need the Palestinians to get their state and we do need to settle that situation.

“We think Israel will take its place in the region,” he added, “but only with certain preconditions.”

Prince Turki also echoed recent Saudi denials that a meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took place in the Saudi city of Neom two weeks ago. Reports of the meeting were leaked by Israeli and U.S. media sources, but Saudi government officials, including the Foreign Minister himself, responded that the leaks were false and the meeting never took place.

“The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan completely denied the allegations,” Prince Turki said at the conference. “Unfortunately, the media prioritizes news coming from Israel over the ones issued in the kingdom.”

He added: “The kingdom denied the news, and I believe that the kingdom’s credibility is highly esteemed, more than the allegations made by someone like Netanyahu, who is accused in his country of lying to the Israeli people – so how can they believe a liar?”

Several minutes later, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi appeared on screen via video link and expressed his “regret” at the Prince’s comments, adding: “I don’t believe that they reflect the spirit and the changes taking place in the Middle East.”