Former Saudi General Dr. Anwar Eshki visited Israel last week, alongside a delegation of academics and businessmen, all of whom came with the intended goal to encourage further discussion of the Saudi-led 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
The Israeli news source Haaretz reported that the delegation met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories Major-General Yoav Mordechai, and several Knesset members from the opposition.
Eshki’s meetings with Gold and Mordechai reportedly took place at the King David Hotel in the heart of Jerusalem, and not at official Israeli government facilities.
The recent visit by Eshki is extremely rare and highly unusual, Haaretz explained, saying that the former general couldn’t have traveled to Israel without explicit approval from the Saudi government.
Three Knesset members, Issawi Frej and Michael Rozin (Meretz) and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) who attended the meeting revealed that the Saudis expressed eagerness to progress Israeli discourse on the peace initiative.
“The Saudis want to open up to Israel,” Frej said. “It’s a strategic move for them. They want to continue what former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat started (with the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty). They want to get closer with Israel, and we could feel it clearly.”
This is not the first time Eshki and Gold have met. In August 2015, the two shook hands and made back-to-back addresses to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank. Both leaders advocated for a move towards Israeli-Saudi peace and acknowledged Iran as the main threat to stability and security in the region.
Eshki told Israel’s Channel 10 News at the time that he and Gold had met “to call for peace in the Middle East.” He said “Saudis and Israelis could work together when Israel announces that it accepts the Arab Initiative.”
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative allegedly promises ties between the Jewish state and 57 Arab and Muslim states upon finalizing a peace agreement with the Palestinians. However, critics, have slammed the initiative, saying that in reality, the Arabs will only agree to normalize relations with Israel on condition that the state agrees to cede Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, and allows for millions of foreign-born Arabs to freely immigrate to the shrunken Israel, a very dangerous notion for the Jewish state.
During their short trip last week, the delegation also took the time to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as several other Palestinian officials, and toured the city of Ramallah, Haaretz reported.
Eshki is no stranger to warm overtures toward Israel. In April, the former general expressed willingness to establish a Saudi embassy in Tel Aviv, contingent upon Israel’s cooperation in adopting the Arab Peace Initiative.
His visit comes as the Arab world, led by Egypt, is once again pushing for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Earlier this month, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem where the two discussed the stalled peace process. At the time, Netanyahu had reportedly expressed willingness to meet with Abbas in Cairo for talks that would be hosted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.