As U.S. President Joe Biden departed from the U.S.-Arab summit in Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud denied that his nation’s decision to open up its airspace to civilian overflights has anything to do with the establishing diplomatic ties with Israel nor represents “a precursor to any further steps” toward normalization.
Prince Faisal seemed determined to quench any expectations in Jerusalem or Washington that this move – which allows for flights from Israel to China or India to follow a much shorter and cheaper route – indicates a first step toward initiating diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Following the GCC+3 regional summit in Jeddah, which included leaders from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, the foreign minister held a press conference to clarify the point. He explained that the decision was made to allow for better connectivity between the world’s countries, hoping that it will make travel easier and that, in no way, is it “a precursor to any further steps.”
He also downplayed any mention of a regional defense alliance against Iran that might include Israel. He stated that the kingdom is committed to coming to a positive understanding with Iran.
Following meetings with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) late on Friday, Biden called the overflights decision, “a big deal, not only symbolically but substantively,” adding, “This is the first tangible step on the path of what I hope will eventually be a broader normalization of relations” between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Earlier in the day Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid had also referred to the Saudi decision as being the Jewish state’s “first official step in normalization with Saudi Arabia.” He thanked the Saudi leadership for opening up its airspace saying, “This is only the first step.”
Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir reiterated his country’s commitment to the two-state solution saying, “We have made it clear that peace comes at the end of this process, not at the beginning of it.”
Al-Jubeir further emphasized that peace will only come once there is a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. His statement came following a joint communique issued after Biden’s meeting last week with the Saudi king and MBS. During that meeting, all parties reportedly stressed their commitment to a two-state solution, wherein “a sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state lives side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The White House did not issue any comment.