Interview: We Must Be Careful Whether to Say Saudi Journalist ‘Is Alive or Not’ – Scholar

I was interviewed by Sputnik about Jamal Khashuggi on 8/10/2018

Concerns are growing for the well-being of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was last seen entering the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday.

His fiancee waited for him outside the consulate for 11 hours, but there was no sign of Khashoggi leaving, and he has not been seen or heard by anyone since. Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime who had been living in self-imposed exile in America, had gone to the embassy to collect a document certifying that he was divorced, in order to marry his Turkish fiancee.

Sputnik has discussed the issue with Kamel Hawwash, academic and writer on Middle Eastern affairs — whom he met a week ago.

Sputnik: When you met Khashoggi a week ago did he seem afraid for his life?

Kamel Hawwash: When I met Mr Khashoggi at the Middle East Monitor conference just over a week ago — I hadn’t met him before — we exchanged good wishes; I chaired actually the session that he spoke at when he was speaking about the Oslo accords and their failure.

And even in that, although he criticized the stance of the Saudis on what is called ‘the deal of the century’ he reported to the conference that the Saudi King had effectively taken back control of the issue related to Palestine and particularly about Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

And he advised the Palestinians to take hold of their own fate, but of course they would be supported by other countries.

Sputnik: Does Khashoggi really pose such a threat to the Saudi regime?

Kamel Hawwash: Well, Jamal Khashoggi has been in self-imposed exile for the last few months, he moved to the United States and has been writing for the Washington Post.

I think it was the fear that if he did had remained in the Kingdom he would either have to choose to be completely silent or if he did speak out he would face some danger.

Sputnik: If the reports are correct, and it was a state authorized killing, which would the Saudis want to risk further damaging relations with Turkey by carrying it in Turkey?

Kamel Hawwash: To be missing for a week having entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul having left 20 minutes later (according to the Saudis) raises lots of questions and people look back on a number of incidents when Saudi dissidents —fully fledged dissidents — have been arrested and taken back from different countries.

So we have to be careful about whether the man is alive or not but clearly until the Saudis themselves present evidence that he left in embassy in one piece, suspicions will continue to be that a week afterwards that something must have befallen the man otherwise why hasn’t he spoken out or been seen anywhere?

Sputnik: Is it time for Saudi Arabia to be held to account for its human rights abuses; should the ICC get involved?

Kamel Hawwash: Well I think even before we get that, clearly countries with very strong ties, relationships, that call themselves allies of Saudi Arabia have a role to play, especially the United States, the United Kingdom; countries that supply Saudi Arabia with weapons that are being used in the war in Yemen, for example, should be calling the ambassadors and asking for absolute clarity about what has happened to Khashoggi and different countries can then take their own action.

And that would be much more immediate in my view than taking something to the ICC which would take quite a long time to materialize. So I do think that…But we know that whether it’s the United States or the United Kingdom or other countries who have been continuing to sell weapons to the Saudis despite clear atrocities which have been committed — including for example a bus in which 50 children were killed by a bombing — but there have been, they have not taken the right action in terms of saying ‘we will stop supplying arms to Saudi Arabia because of this’. So the chances of them doing something for one individual — unfortunately there don’t seem to be strong chances that they will.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Kamel Hawwash and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

How long before the Israeli flag flies over Riyadh?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 22/11/2017

A general view from the Arabic Islamic American Summit at King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 21 May, 2017 [Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency]

A general view from the Arabic Islamic American Summit at King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 21 May, 2017 [Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency]
At a recent MEMO conference entitled “Crisis in Saudi Arabia: War Succession and Future”, I asked Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed of the London School of Economics if she thought that the Israeli flag would be flying over Riyadh within the next two years.

“In terms of an Israeli flag in Makkah or in Riyadh,” she replied, “well, you don’t need to raise the flag to have contacts.” She distinguished between the rush to normalisation with Israel by Gulf leaders, and their citizens, referring to a recent anti-normalisation conference in Kuwait, which she hoped would contribute to the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “At least it means that those rulers who are doing that [normalising relations with Israel] do not represent everybody in the Gulf. There are people who are worried and still care about Palestinian rights.”

My question was of course about the symbolism of the Israeli flag flying in Riyadh. Would the young pretender to the Saudi throne, Mohammed Bin Salman, actually establish formal, above the table relations with the Zionist state? For a man who has just carried out a purge, during which he held some of his key rivals and the wealthiest and best-known Saudis under house arrest, raising the Israeli flag would not be such a big deal in the absence of any tangible opposition.

There have, of course, been robust reports of growing normalisation between Israel and Gulf States, essentially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They have included an “unofficial” visit to Israel by retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki in 2016; he met the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Director General and a group of Knesset members to “encourage dialogue in Israel on the Arab Peace Initiative.” The initiative offers Israel normalisation with the Arab and Muslim world in exchange for an end to the occupation of Arab land; it was launched in Beirut in 2002 by the then Saudi Crown Prince (and now late King) Abdullah.

Israel has not agreed to the proposal, while the international community failed to exert sufficient pressure on it to accept what it has craved since its establishment on Palestinian land in 1948. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted as much in response to my question at the aforementioned conference. Had he done enough while in office to put pressure on the Israelis to accept the Arab Initiative? No, he replied, we should have exerted more pressure.

Another prominent Saudi keen on normalisation with Israel is Prince Turki Bin Faisal Al-Saud. The former chief of Saudi intelligence and Ambassador to the US and Britain now has a history of engaging with Israeli officials and former officials. It started with a handshake with the then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in Munich in 2010. His most recent encounter was as a member of a panel organised by the Israel Policy Forum along with Efraim Halevy, the former director of the Mossad spy agency; the event was held in a New York synagogue. The conversation was not about the Arab Peace Initiative or how peace might be brought to the holy land, but about US President Donald Trump’s approach towards Iran. While Al-Faisal has shared platforms with Israeli officials before, this was his first panel in a synagogue; he hoped “it would not be the last.”

It seems that meetings between Israelis and Saudis are taking place at the very highest level. Israeli media reported that Mohammad Bin Salman himself made a visit to Israel in September, which included a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This was denied by non-other than General Eshki, who claimed: “The Crown Prince did not visit Israel, and I did not visit Israel. Everyone should know that according to Saudi law, no Saudi official is officially allowed to shake hands with an Israeli.” In fact, he certainly has visited Israel. According to Haaretz, “While this wasn’t an official visit, it was a highly unusual one, as Eshki couldn’t have travelled to Israel without approval from the Saudi government.”

While Saudi Arabia continues to deny any contact with Israel, evidence is mounting to the contrary. In an interview on Army Radio, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, confirmed but did not characterise the contacts or give details when asked why Israel was “hiding its ties” with Saudi Arabia. “We have ties that are indeed partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries,” he explained, “and usually (we are) the party that is not ashamed. It’s the other side that is interested in keeping the ties quiet. With us, usually, there is no problem, but we respect the other side’s wish, when ties are developing, whether it’s with Saudi Arabia or with other Arab countries or other Muslim countries, and there is much more … (but) we keep it secret.”

In exchange for cooperation with the Trump Administration and Israel to combat the perceived threat from Iran, Saudi Arabia seems to be willing to sacrifice Palestinian rights. In fact, it is ready to throw Palestinians to the dogs. It is reported that when Bin Salman recently “summoned” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Riyadh it was to tell him either to accept the “ultimate peace deal” —which will be made in Israel and marketed by Trump — or resign.

Saudi attracts US attention by singing Israel's tunes - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

What the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and all other normalisers appear to ignore is that Israel takes and never gives. It will take normalisation but give nothing in exchange. If they think that Israeli jets will ever fly over Riyadh or Abu Dhabi to protect its newly found allies from a fictitious Iranian air strike, then they are deluded. They only need to look at Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab states which have long normalised relations with Israel, to see which party has benefited from their peace deals.

Mohammad Bin Salman would do better to support the BDS movement against Israel rather than normalise Saudi Arabia’s relations with the Zionist state; that is, if he is serious about supporting the Palestinians to attain their rights. Moreover, if Mahmoud Abbas has to choose between accepting an unacceptable deal or resign, then I say to him resign now with honour, before the Israeli flag is indeed flying proudly on the Riyadh skyline.