On the last day of the 2014 Gaza War, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting with a special envoy from the Saudi king. In the meeting, Saudi Arabia proposed a joint diplomatic initiative on relaunching Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, rebuilding Gaza and confronting Iran, three sources briefed on the effort told me.
Why it matters: This was an unprecedented move by the Saudis — who do not have diplomatic relations with Israel — that could have profoundly shifted the regional dynamic. More surprisingly still, the Saudis planned to present it in public with the Israelis.
The details of the Saudi proposal, according to the sources:
- Israel and Saudi Arabia would draft an updated version of the 2002 Arab peace initiative.
- Netanyahu and the Saudi foreign minister would then present the initiative together during the meeting of the UN General Assembly.
- Israel and Saudi Arabia would announce a process to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians would be relaunched.
- Saudi Arabia would lead a regional push for the reconstruction of Gaza.
The backstory, according to the three sources:
- In early September 2014, Netanyahu held a secret meeting with Saudi national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The meeting took place in a third country.
- Bandar told Netanyahu at the meeting that Saudi Arabia wanted to relaunch the peace process in order to be able to unite the region against Iran.
- Netanyahu was enthusiastic, and after 10 hours of talks, he and Bandar agreed to start preparing for a summit at the UN.
- In the next few weeks, meetings were held between Netanyahu's advisers and Bandar's aides to draft a joint document.
- Israel presented a draft, and while the Saudis agreed to many of the points, they asked Israel to show flexibility. Netanyahu refused to go further, and the talks collapsed, the sources told me.
Between the lines: The sources told me the Saudis felt they went out of their way toward Israel. They said the Saudis felt angry and humiliated, and they held Netanyahu responsible.
- The sources told me that Bandar conveyed a message to Netanyahu two months later, with the bottom line being that he believed Netanyahu lied to him.
The big picture: The affair created a deep crisis between Israel and Saudi Arabia and communications between the parties almost stopped — even on the Iranian issue. The crisis ended only a year later, several months after the death of King Abdullah and the inauguration of King Salman.