Keynote Remarks at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations 40th Anniversary Commemoration

Keynote speech by HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud delivered at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 40th Anniversary Commemoration on November 16, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to be here with you this evening and join you in the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the National Council on US Arab Relations. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Doctor John Duke Anthony who had the vision to establish this great institution and the wisdom to guide the Council through these many decades.

John, you have made an indelible mark on the world through your visionary leadership and unwavering commitment. It is with great admiration and respect that we celebrate your achievements this evening.

When we think of pioneers, we think of individuals who possess the ability to see beyond the present, to imagine a brighter future, and to take bold steps towards making that vision a reality.

John, you embody all these qualities and more. Through your perseverance and determination, you created an organization that has become a bridge of understanding, a center of knowledge, and a symbol of the power of constructive dialogue.

But beyond your accomplishments, you have always remained humble, recognizing the contributions of others and acknowledging that true success is a collective achievement.

You have shown us that one person can make a difference, that a small spark of inspiration can create a stronger, more enduring relationship between the United States and its Arab partners.

And your legacy will continue under the leadership of Delano Roosevelt.

Delano, the mission and values of this organization are literally written into your DNA. I am confident that with you at the helm, the Council will continue to thrive and grow. Its influence will expand. And you will lead the Council to new heights. I wish God’s blessings upon you, Delano, and great success in building the future of the Council.

My remarks this evening may be remarkable for just one thing. Most everything I say to you tonight will be something that you have probably heard before.

Because the issue that has plagued the Middle East for decades—the Israel-Palestine conflict continues to recycle the same diatribes, the same debates… without progress. Without much change. It is a conflict that has led to many wars, costing tens of thousands of lives. And yet, nothing has changed.

Despite the passage of time and the countless efforts made towards peace, nothing has changed.

We have witnessed cycles of violence, negotiations, and temporary ceasefires, only to see a return to the same patterns of hostility and distrust. The conflict persists, seemingly trapped in a perpetual state of stalemate. The underlying issues and grievances remain unresolved, and both sides continue to suffer the consequences.

Over the years, numerous peace initiatives and negotiations have been attempted, each with its own set of promises and hopes. However, these efforts have often been derailed by Israel’s failure to address the core issue at hand. Providing the Palestinians their just rights in accordance with international law.

It is the unlawful occupation by Israel of Palestinian land that lies at the heart of the conflict.

It is the longest occupation in history. For nearly six decades, the Palestinian people have been subjected to Colonization. The denial of basic human rights. Destruction and displacement. And abject poverty.

Since 2007, the Israeli blockade of Gaza has caused immense suffering to its inhabitants. The people of Gaza have endured limited access to clean water, electricity, and healthcare. They have essentially been trapped in a concentration camp.

Before October 7th, more than 80 percent of the people in Gaza lived below the poverty line. Many lived on less than 2 dollars a day. More than 60 percent were literally starving. The unemployment rate was almost 50 percent. For young people, unemployment was even higher.

They have lived without things that we all take for granted. Like clean water. Between 2007 and 2022, hundreds of water wells in Gaza used for both domestic consumption and farmlands were damaged or destroyed by Israeli Security Forces. Eighty percent of water extracted from Gaza aquifers does not meet WHO water quality standards.

In the West Bank, Palestinians face relentless violence. They are also denied access to essential services such as water, health care, and education. Homes and other vital infrastructure are routinely demolished, and inhabitants are evicted by force. Schools are routinely damaged or destroyed. Palestinian students are harassed on their way to school, hampering their access to education. Children, women and old and young men imprisoned without due process. Olive trees uprooted for no reason.

For the Palestinians, that is life under Israeli occupation. It is one of the most cruel and inhumane colonializations in history.

Through its occupation, Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians. This oppression and domination is enforced through illegal and military practices that make Palestinians live as second and third class people. It is segregation. It is apartheid.

It is a situation of hopelessness, despair, and humiliation. Is it any wonder that the cycle of violence continues?

The Israeli military’s incursions into Palestinian territories, the use of excessive force, and the collective punishment of entire communities have resulted in the loss of countless lives, including those of innocent civilians, women, and children.

From May through July of this year alone, Israel killed 450 Palestinians, including 67 children. Since October 7th, over 11 thousand have been murdered by Israel, and the deaths mount every day. Since October 7th, more Palestinians have been butchered by Israel in the West Bank.

The unlawful construction of Israeli colonies in the occupied territories has further exacerbated the situation.

Imagine, for a moment, if you and your family were living in the streets, in poverty, and in the distance, you can see people living where your house recently stood. That was everyday life in Palestine.

In the reporting of the latest violence, I have been seeing a repeated phrase in American media, calling October 7 an unprovoked attack. What more provocation is required to make it provoked than what Israel has done to the Palestinian people for three quarters of a century?

However, despite the seemingly bleak reality, it is essential to recognize that the desire for peace still exists. Tireless work towards reconciliation, understanding, and coexistence does continue. And while these efforts may sometimes go unnoticed amidst the noise of conflict, they represent a hope for a different future.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you. Is it not time for change?

Is it not time for the international community to take decisive action to bring all parties together to resolve this dispute, fairly, conclusively, and permanently? Is it not time for American leaders to express sorrow and commiseration to the people of Palestine for the deaths of their children, siblings, mothers, fathers, and relatives, as they do to the Israeli people?

Is it not time to address the plight of the Palestinian people? Because a just and lasting solution can only be achieved through dialogue, negotiation, and a commitment to the principles of international law. This includes the recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Even in the face of the current situation, we cannot turn a blind eye to this humanitarian crisis. We cannot ignore the suffering and injustice that Palestinians have endured for far too long.

America has long been an advocate for freedom. A force against oppression and occupation. From South Africa to Ukraine, you have stood up for the oppressed. Why have you turned a blind eye to the suffering of the people of Palestine?

It is our moral obligation as human beings to stand up for the rights of all people, regardless of their nationality, religion, or ethnicity. Including Palestinians.

Does that mean that the horrific killing of civilians by Hamas is justified? No. There can never be justification for the murder of innocents or the savagery of what occurred on October 7th.

I condemn Hamas’ targeting of civilians of any age or gender, as it is accused of. These acts go against Islamic injunctions about harming civilians and desecrating places of worship. The loss of innocent Israeli lives is tragic and heartbreaking. There is no justification for the killing of innocents. As the Quran says, “Whoever kills an innocent person it is as if he has killed all of humanity.”

As this violence continues…humanity dies a little more every day. There are no heroes in this conflict. Only victims.

So, I equally condemn Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the attempt to forcibly drive them into Sinai. Israel has overwhelming military superiority, and we see in front of our eyes, the devastation and oblivion it is bringing to the people of Gaza.

A month ago, I spoke at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy. I said that Hamas has gifted the higher moral ground to a reviled Israeli government that even half of the Israeli public view as fascist, miscreant, and abhorrent. Ladies and Gentlemen, I should have added the word stupid to that description. It is a stupid beast that since October 7th, that sorry excuse for what its admirers call the only democracy in the Middle East could not bring itself to hold the higher moral ground. Instead, by its beastly nature, it descended into its barbarous nature to wallow in the stench of its bloody, vengeful, and cruel murdering of innocent lives not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Netanyahu invokes Biblical annihilation of Palestinians by reminding Israeli citizens of God’s wrath upon the Malek. What more indication of his actions in Gaza? His arrogance led him to funnel financial aid to Hamas, and now, Mr. Blinken is canvassing support for the post Hamas governing of Gaza. Mr. Blinken, you should also consider a post Netanyahu governing of Israel. He is as culpable as Hamas in what is unfolding there.

As we have witnessed in the past, the current violence will result in an uneven, disproportionate outcome in human suffering. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It may be inevitable, if this violence continues, that we will see an even more appalling number of civilian casualties.

We need to ask ourselves….will the elimination of every member of Hamas change anything? No. It will not. Will the seizure of more land? Building of more walls? Tighter controls on Palestinian movement? Will any of that make Israel more secure? No, it will not.

If you want to achieve a lasting peace, then end the occupation. Give Palestinians a pathway to a homeland so that two sovereign states can co-exist, peacefully, with secure borders. President Biden said yesterday that the two-state solution is the end game to look forward to. I hope that he walks that walk and not only talks that talk.

The irony of October 7th is that Israel was funneling Qatari money to Hamas believing that it could tame Hamas by facilitating Hamas’ financial wellbeing. I condemn both Israel for financing what is considered a terrorist organization and I condemn Hamas for pretending to be the savior of the Palestinian people while receiving bribes from Israel. Duplicity upon duplicity.

The public discourse that has surrounded the events of October has been polarizing and far too one-sided. I recoil from Western politicians who shed tears when Israelis are killed by Palestinians but refuse to even express sorrow when Israelis kill Palestinians. And how some media outlets have been covering the conflict has clouded any ability to see and understand its root causes and, in doing so, create yet another obstacle to any path to a lasting peace.

Does my criticism of Israel make me pro-Hamas? No. It does not. Does it make me insensitive to the atrocities we have seen? No. I weep for the loss of all innocent life, regardless of their nationality or faith.

I believe my comments only underscore one simple truth: two wrongs do not make a right.

The same holds for the Palestinians. While I believe all militarily occupied people have a right to resist their occupation — even militarily. War and violence are not the answer. I prefer the other option: civil resistance and disobedience. It brought down the British Empire in India and the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe. This bloodletting must stop.

Saudi Arabia is working in close concert with its neighbors, the United States and other partners to de-escalate the violence in Gaza, achieve a ceasefire, and revitalize a credible peace process based on the Saudi inspired Arab Peace Initiative which is based on international law. That is our highest priority.

His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, is coordinating closely with other world leaders to try to find a way not only to end the violence, but also to address the root causes that have fueled this conflict for so many decades. Saudi Arabia will always stand by the Palestinian people to support their quest to achieve their legitimate rights, realize their hopes and aspirations, and establish a just and lasting peace. Since the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords, one sponsored by President George Herbert Walker Bush and the other anointed by President Willian Jefferson Clinton, Saudi Arabia has been a leader in seeking a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. We introduced the Arab Peace Initiative, a framework for a comprehensive peace, with a commitment to two-states – a commitment to ensuring Palestinian rights. That’s the only route for lasting peace. Saudi Arabia is determined to shape a better tomorrow, but we need everyone to share this commitment. Two summits have been held in Saudi Arabia conjointly in recent days, an Arab and an Islamic Heads of States summit. The emphasis from both summits is not only on sanctioning Israel’s brutality, but also on a peaceful resolution to the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestine according to United Nations Resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel should accept this generous offer for its own sake.

Our region has seen more than its share of chaos and uncertainty. It has experienced decades of tension and conflict, seen legitimate governments undermined and destabilized, and witnessed millions of innocent men, women and children suffer the consequences. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As President John F. Kennedy once said, political leaders must, “learn from the mistakes and failures of the past, and promulgate a foreign policy which can win the minds and hearts of people everywhere, which can command the support of our allies and enemies…” And that is precisely what Saudi Arabia aims to accomplish.

The Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 program is Saudi’s commitment to moderation, eliminating extremism and unleashing Saudi, and the region’s, economic potential. And it is working. In just seven years, this vision is redefining life in the Kingdom. Vision 2030 is diversifying our economy beyond oil with a commitment to sustainable technologies and energy. It is revolutionizing the place, role, and rights of every individual in society with a focus on women’s empowerment. And it is generating new social and economic opportunities for young people.

Vision 2030 is a blueprint for breaking old negative cycles and replacing them with positive practices, domestically and internationally, because instability, extremism, disharmony, division are destructive cycles that hold back the full potential of the region.

Our priorities are to advance equality; to modernize our social laws in line with our values; to expand cultural, arts and entertainment opportunities; and to improve the quality of life for every citizen, especially women and young people. We are addressing issues of intolerance, reforming our educational system, promoting inter-faith dialogue and applying a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of extremism. And we are welcoming and encouraging tourism with a spirit of openness and a commitment to greater cooperation and partnership.

But we can’t do any of this alone. Peace requires allies and stability requires cooperation. Shared prosperity requires economic collaboration. And dialogue and negotiation can’t occur without partners.

That is why the Saudi-US bilateral relationship is so important. Because this partnership can help both nations work toward a more stable and secure Middle East and beyond.

As the world grows more interdependent, as transportation and technology shatter barriers between people and cultures, the entire world has become our back yard. Borders cannot keep us truly safe. Only alliances, partnerships, negotiations and investments in a better, healthier, more prosperous future can deliver the security and prosperity we all seek.

Saudi Arabia is committed to being a leader in creating that future. When I think about our region, I tend to think less about the current challenges, which can seem overwhelming, and more about what is possible, if we step outside the conflict of the moment and focus on what can be achieved.

Peace, prosperity, stability and opportunity – that should be our collective goal. And Saudi Arabia is prepared to work with one and all to make these goals a reality.

Across the Middle East, we see a region of diversity and inclusivity that can compete with any region in the world, and can truly serve as an engine of economic growth and human ingenuity, once set free from the traps of ideology and conflict. This is Saudi Arabia’s vision of the future.

And we look forward to continuing to work with the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations to help achieve that shared vision.

My friends, are you not gratifyingly astounded as I am at the outpouring of the American people’s support for and sympathy with the Palestinian peoples’ yearning for independence from the yoke of Israeli occupation? The hundreds of thousands of Americans pouring into the streets of every major American city and across the globe are the reason why I proudly declare that I have American friends.

Thank you.

Author: HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal

HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal is chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and a co-founder of the King Faisal Foundation. He served as ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States from September 13, 2005 until February 2, 2007. He also serves as a member of the board of trustees of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies and has been co-chair of the C100 Group, an affiliate of the World Economic Forum, since 2003. Prince Turki was appointed an advisor in the Royal Court in 1973. From 1977 to 2001, he served as director general of the General Intelligence Directorate, the Kingdom’s main foreign intelligence service. In 2002, he was appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.