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In Davos, Israel’s president calls ties with Saudi Arabia key to ending war in Gaza

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos from Jan. 15 until Jan. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos from Jan. 15 until Jan. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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18 Jan 2024 11:01:41 GMT9
18 Jan 2024 11:01:41 GMT9

DAVOS: Normalizing ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia is a key element of ending the war with Hamas and a gamechanger for the entire Middle East, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Thursday at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss town of Davos.

“It’s still delicate, it’s fragile, and it will take a long time, but I think that it is actually an opportunity to move forward in the world and the region toward a better future,” Herzog said.

It comes days after Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said on a Davos panel that the kingdom agreed “regional peace includes peace for Israel.” He said Saudi Arabia “certainly” would recognize Israel as part of a larger political agreement.

“But that can only happen through peace for the Palestinians, through a Palestinian state,” he said.

US Secretary Antony Blinken also reiterated in a talk at Davos that a pathway to statehood for Palestinians could help improve Israel’s security and its relations with other countries in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government, however, are opposed to the concept of a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Herzog, whose ceremonial role is meant to serve as a national unifier, said public support for it is low because traumatized Israelis are focused on their own safety following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 rampage. He displayed a photo of Kfar Bibas, the youngest Israeli held hostage in Gaza whose first birthday is Thursday.

“When nations come forward and say ‘two-state solution,’ they have to first deal with a preliminary question, which is a core question for human beings: Are we offered real safety?” Herzog said. “Israelis lost trust in the peace process because they could see that terror is glorified by our neighbors.”

Herzog also used the world stage to stress the global implications of Hamas’ attack on Israel, which he said is just one of the proxies of the “empire of evil emanating from Tehran.”

Amid the conflict in Gaza, Iran has taken military action against what it called an Israeli intelligence operation in neighboring Iraq. Iran-backed rebels in Yemen known as Houthis also have upended global shipping by attacking vessels in the Red Sea, triggering a series of retaliatory strikes from the US and Britain.

“The Houthi issue is a number one priority, because it raises the cost of living for every family in the universe, a little tribe of 50,000 people, amassed with the weapons of an empire,” Herzog said.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian insisted Iran’s strike in Iraq, as well as against an alleged militant base in Pakistan, as part of his country’s right to self-defense and accused Israel of “genocide” in its campaign against Hamas, which has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani also condemned the war in Gaza during a Davos talk Thursday, saying “the international community has failed.”

At the same time, Sudani sought to balance Iraq’s position between the United States and Iran during the war and as Iran-backed militias in Iraq have launched near-daily strikes on bases housing US forces in Iraq and Syria, which they have said is in retaliation for Washington’s backing of Israel.

Sudani said Iraq has “interests” and “strategic partnerships” with both Iran and the United States. But he did reiterate calls for US-led coalition forces to withdraw from his country, saying their presence is no longer justified because their mission was to fight the Daesh group, which is “no longer a threat to the Iraqi people.”

The Iraqi and Israeli leaders were headliners in Thursday’s flurry of activity in the warren of rooms at the Davos Congress Center in the third day of the gathering of world leaders, corporate titans and other elites.

Other high-profile speakers included OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who kept his job after a turbulent executive-suite reshuffle late last year.

The four-day confab at Davos has taken up a vast array of topics, not least the concerns about climate change and artificial intelligence that offers economic promise to some and peril to others.

“Artificial intelligence is now undoubtedly the most important potential contribution for global development,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters Wednesday. But governments are “to a certain extent, ill-equipped, ill-prepared, to deal with this new reality.”

A breakfast panel on the meeting’s sidelines Thursday concentrated on Ukraine’s fight against Russia, a major theme at Davos.

Polish President Andrzej Duda called for the release of confiscated Russian assets in Western banks to help Ukraine, saying $60 billion earmarked for reconstruction of Ukraine by the United States and 50 billion euros by the European Union were “crucial.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged the EU and US to move forward with stalled aid packages and for allies to remember that together their economies are 25 times bigger than Russia’s.

“All we need to do is make our economic strength show, make it pay, and we will be able to help Ukraine bring this to a conclusion,” said Cameron, who met with Iran’s foreign minister at Davos.

The husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff, was jetting in Thursday to discuss combating antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate.


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