Established Saudi journalist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, tells Jewish journalist Joseph Braude of the US conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute, that hiring Israeli Arabs could be a positive step toward establishing official relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
By Roi Kais
In an interview with US conservative think tank the Hudson Institute, journalist Joseph Braude interviewed Saudi journalist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, who suggested that hiring Israeli Arabs in Arab countries could be a positive step toward establishing official relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Al-Rashed was the editor of London-based Arab paper Asharq al-Awsat and had previously run Saudi-owned, pan-Arab television news channel Al Arabiya. In his interview, he spoke about how Saudi Arabia should take a more tolerant and open position toward non-Muslim residents within its borders who reside in the country for work. When Braude asked him whether his position also extends to Jews, Al-Rashed reflected on Saudi-Israeli relations, stipulating that in order to achieve warmer, official ties between the two countries, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must first be settled.
“To begin with, without resolving the Palestinian-Israeli issue, it’s not possible to address this problem substantively. I see the brunt of the issue as political and not religious: Before Jews and Israelis were our obsession, there was anti-Portuguese sentiment in the eighteenth century, anti-Turkish sentiment in the nineteenth century, and anti-British sentiment in the twentieth century. As the underlying conflicts were resolved politically, the cultural clashes subsided,” said Al-Rashed.
Al-Rashed also said that “Without a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, prospects to do so are severely constrained. A resolution of that conflict, whether along the lines of the “Arab Peace Initiative” presented by the late King Abdullah or some other approach, will make it much easier to improve relations among Saudis, other Arabs, Jews generally, and Israelis.
Reflecting on how to progress relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Al-Rashed suggested a creative, economic-based incentive that could also work to make the ties between both countries more official, through incorporating Israeli Arabs into the Arab world’s work force. “If the question is specifically what can be done now—before the conflict is resolved—to increase connectivity, perhaps a new step would be for Saudi Arabia to formally lift its ban on work visas for Israel’s Arab citizens, and for Israel to welcome and foster Arab Israelis’ professional deployment to any Arab country. From a Saudi perspective, the case for doing so can be made openly in terms of the virtue of empowering all Palestinians, on either side of the Green Line. In seeking out the most qualified Arabs in Israel to work anywhere in the Gulf, moreover, we will inevitably find those who have achieved success in the mainstream of Israel’s economy and society—the tech sector, manufacturing, medicine, and so on. When they travel to the GCC states (Gulf Cooperation Council —ed.), their human networks and professional partnerships will effectively travel with them. Thus, they can serve as a human bridge, as Israel moves toward a political solution, gradually enabling partnerships between the broader populations of both sides.”
“Normalization with Arab Israelis should be initiated by the Arab League in Cairo, which historically has been the lion’s den of resistance to normalization,” continued Al-Rashed. “To them we might say that, after all, many Jewish Israelis hold dual citizenship and are free to work almost anywhere in the region with their non-Israeli passport. Meanwhile, most Arab Israelis are banned from working in Arab countries because they hold only Israeli citizenship. In a similar vein, many Israeli companies are already exporting goods to Arab markets through foreign corporate entities, while Arab farmers in Israel cannot sell their tomatoes in the Gulf market.”
The interview has already garnered interest from certain bodies in Israel. Officials within the Israeli Peace Initiative, which aims to help develop relationships in the form of a conciliatory agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and other countries in the region, said that the idea of beginning to legitimize Israeli-Saudi relations is a refreshing change. The added that now is the time to signal Israelis and neighboring people to carefully progress forward with a diplomatic process, and that such creative ideas are a good way in which this could be achieved.
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