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Israeli minister calls for Saudi Arabia to join Gaza reconstruction conference

Yair Lapid has called for Gulf States to join a conference on Gaza reconstruction to protect Israel's 'strategic security interest'
Finance Minister Yair Lapid has called for Egypt to host a conference on Gaza reconstruction (AFP)

The Israeli finance minister has called on “moderate Arab states including Saudi Arabia” to hold a joint conference with Israel to discuss reconstruction on Gaza.

Yair Lapid announced a “diplomatic initiative” to increase efforts to “demilitarise Gaza and the transfer of authority in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA) while maintaining Israel’s strategic security interest.”

He called for Egypt to host a conference to be attended by the US, EU, Russia, Jordan, the PA and the Gulf States that would discuss Gaza reconstruction and establish “economic ties between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world.”

“The initiative also calls for the involvement of states which will provide economic support for the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and the creation of projects which will lead to long term economic cooperation in the region,” the statement from Lapid’s media advisor said.

Cooperation between Israel and the Gulf States, principally Saudi Arabia, has increased as their interests have converged in recent times. Saudi Arabia is reported as having been supportive of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, which has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, as a result of their leaders’ opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Hamas.

The Kingdom is, however, sensitive to being publicly linked with Israel and responded angrily to a report last month that they were cooperating with Israel over Gaza in an intelligence triumvirate with Egypt.

A senior Israeli foreign ministry official responded to Lapid’s announcement with scorn, saying Saudi Arabia “would rather die” than be seen in public with their Israeli counterparts.

“It cannot possibly happen in any real-world scenario,” the unnamed official told the Times of Israel. “Even the latest Transformers’ movie is more rooted in real life than this proposition.”

“I suggest that he [Lapid] starts picking up the phone and calling his colleagues in the aforementioned countries and starts making the arrangements,” they sarcastically added.

Israeli relations with Saudi Arabia, however, do appear to be growing as a result of the recent Gaza assault. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently praised the “unique link which has been forged with the states of the region” in an apparent reference to the Kingdom.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in April said “quiet contacts” between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab countries would be “publicised within a year and a half,” according to the Times of Israel. Officials from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait quickly denied the claim, however, describing the comments as “baseless”.