Saudi-Israel normalization unlikely as long as Ben-Gvir is in office, says Israeli official

A senior Israeli official has criticized the extremist Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, for storming Al-Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday morning.

The senior Israeli official said Itamar Ben-Gvir’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque had “destroyed the opportunity for normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia”, Haaretz newspaper reported.

The Israeli paper quoted the unidentified Israeli official as saying “there is no opportunity to develop relations with Saudi Arabia as long as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are in the government coalition.”

Bezalel Smotrich, who supports abolishing the Palestinian Authority and annexing the West Bank, is Israel’s new finance minister.

The paper added that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk about activating normalization with Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, using the influence of the United States and European powers, is “detached from the reality indicated by Ben-Gvir’s storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque”.

Haaretz indicated that “a few minutes of Ben-Gvir’s wanderings in Al-Aqsa were enough for the international community to make it clear to the Netanyahu government that it would not be patient with the whims of his new government.”

It explained that Arab, Islamic and international reactions have also sent a clear and unified message to Netanyahu.

According to the paper, Ben Gvir’s incident has greatly contributed to returning the Palestinian cause to international attention, without a single violent incident being recorded.

On Tuesday morning, Ben-Gvir stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque without prior announcement and under heavy armed police protection. The site is a Muslim holy site under the custodianship of Jordan.

Saudi Arabia condemns

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned the “provocative” practices of Israel’s newly appointed National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who stormed the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday morning, 3 January 2023.

“The Ministry expresses the Kingdom’s regret at the practices of the Israeli occupation authorities that undermine international peace efforts and contradict international norms and principles of respecting religious sanctities,” a statement issued on Tuesday read.

The Saudi statement did not name Ben-Gvir but referred to him as an “Israeli official who stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyards.”

The ministry stressed the Kingdom’s “firm position in standing by the brotherly Palestinian people, and supports all efforts aimed at ending the occupation and reaching a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue that enables the Palestinian people to establish their independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

US slams Ben-Gvir’s move

The US, on Tuesday, criticized Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, for storming Al-Aqsa Mosque in Occupied East Jerusalem, Anadolu News Agency reported.

The far-right Minister stormed the mosque complex early Tuesday with settlers under police protection, a day after he announced he was postponing the visit due to warnings of unrest.

The US Embassy in Israel said that Ambassador, Thomas Nides “has made it very clear in discussions with the Israeli government that the status quo must be maintained at Jerusalem’s holy sites. Actions that prevent this are unacceptable.”

Ben-Gvir’s visit was massively condemned by Palestinians as an “unprecedented provocation”.

For Muslims, Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in the world. Jews, on the other hand, refer to the area as the Temple Mount because two Jewish temples were located there in ancient times.

Ben-Gvir holds far-right views of the Palestinians and has called for their expulsion.

He has repeatedly joined Israeli settlers in storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.

The far-right politician also caused a wave of escalation in the Occupied city after he set up an office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog warned in a leaked audio clip that “the whole world is concerned” about Ben-Gvir’s extremist views.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and annexed the entire city in 1980, a move never recognized by the international community.