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

 Normalizing ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be a key element of ending the war with Hamas and a game-changer 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 towards 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.

U.S. 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 stressed 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 Iraq and launched attacks in Pakistan and Syria. Iran-backed rebels in Yemen known as Houthis also have upended global shipping by attacking vessels in the Red Sea, triggering retaliatory strikes from the U.S. 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 in Davos, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian insisted Iran’s strike in Iraq, as well as against an alleged militant base in Pakistan, are 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.”

But Sudani sought to balance his position between the U.S. and Iran, saying Iraq has “interests” and “strategic partnerships” with both. He also reiterated calls for U.S.-led coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq, saying their presence is no longer justified because the Islamic State group is “no longer a threat to the Iraqi people.”

The Iraqi and Israeli leaders were headliners in Thursday’s flurry of activity in Davos venues where world leaders, corporate titans and other elites mingle.

Norway Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told The Associated Press that a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians “might seem far away right now, but it could also be closer than we think.”

“A lot of people who used to pay lip service to this are now actually more worried than in the long run, that absent of such a development, we will have a continued escalation of violence,” he said.

The four-day confab at Davos — which has been criticized as a talkfest about weighty ideas but few solutions — has taken up a vast array of topics, such as climate change and artificial intelligence, a technology that may offer both economic promise and peril.

Sam Altman, CEO of ChatGPT maker OpenAI, made his Davos debut after leadership turmoil late last year. During a panel on technology and humanity, he faced gentle questioning about the boardroom bust-up as well as a lawsuit by the New York Times to stop OpenAI from using its stories to train AI chatbots.

At breakfast panel on the meeting’s sidelines Thursday focused on Ukraine’s fight against Russia, Polish President Andrzej Duda called for frozen Russian assets in Western banks to be used for Ukraine.

He said $60 billion earmarked for Ukrainian reconstruction by the U.S. and 50 billion euros ($54 billion) by the European Union were “crucial.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged the EU and U.S. 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.

Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, arrived to speak out against hatred, including Islamophobia, saying there’s been “a crisis of antisemitism” since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Speaking to a group of businesswomen, Emhoff, who said “I love being Jewish,” noted that his concerns about antisemitism surged after he drove by a highway sign that read “Kanye was right” — an allusion to antisemitic comments by the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. Ye has since apologized.

“And it just pissed me off — it just struck a chord. And I knew I had to do more,” Emhoff said Thursday.

What came next was what he called the first national strategy to fight antisemitism in the U.S.

A day earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with several former hostages and relatives of those still held by Hamas, as did some 150 business leaders — including CEOs Albert Bourla of Pfizer, Andy Jassy of Amazon and Michael Dell of Dell computers.

“Nili Margalit and Moran Stela Yanai, who were released from Hamas captivity, told participants about the hostages they left behind and the urgent need to reach a deal to bring them home before it is too late,” according to a group formed by hostages’ families.

By Usmana Kousar