Saudis in Jerusalem: Opposition leader calls for role for Kingdom at al-Aksa
Riyadh should be given a “central role” in future arrangements for al-Aksa Mosque, opposition leader Isaac Herzog told a Saudi publication, according to a transcript released by his office on Tuesday.
“We will arrive at talks on Jerusalem and the holy places like al-Aksa,” Herzog told the Saudi-owned, London-based Elaph website, referring to Islam’s third holiest shrine. “I think the Saudis have a great responsibility and role for the holy places of Islam.”
Herzog noted that the Saudis had “taken responsibility for Mecca and Medina,” Islam’s two holiest cities. “I think the Saudis have to be granted a central role in this matter,” he said.
If Herzog’s view were state policy, that would likely touch off a negative reaction from Jordan, which according to peace agreements with Israel, enjoys the status of custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. The Jordanian monarchy derives legitimacy in part from its role as protector of al-Aksa Mosque, and the ruling Hashemite dynasty once controlled Mecca and Medina.
Herzog was the third Israeli personality to be interviewed by Elaph in recent weeks, in what appears to be a small step in normalizing ties between Riyadh and Israel, which share an interest in combating Iranian influence in the region. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot gave the first interview to Elaph, during which he offered intelligence sharing to the Saudis. Transportation Minister Israel Katz also gave an interview to the publication.
Herzog told Elaph that Israeli voters will oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the next election.
Asked how he could persuade voters to support the Zionist Union, Herzog said that he needs a “genuine partner” for negotiations. “I had a number of meetings with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and we spoke a lot about this.”
Herzog added that he disagrees with US President Donald Trump’s view that there can be an immediate peace. Instead, Herzog proposed “making progress in stages over 10 years with the building of institutions of the Palestinian state and the transfer of additional authorities to the Palestinians in further realms.” This, he said, should be done in parallel with “building shared horizons between the two peoples” and ending incitement.
“Today we are in the most difficult situation between the two peoples,” he said. “There is a loss of hope on our side and a blocked path for the Palestinians. When the road is a dead end, unilateral steps begin to come to the fore. I suggest to everyone to beware of unilateral steps and call on everyone to be more rational. Saudi Arabia has a big role at this stage.”
Herzog praised Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, terming him “one of the great revolutionaries of the Middle East.
“We must help Saudi Arabia revive the peace process with the Palestinians,” Herzog said.