The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League has taken the unprecedented and potentially controversial step of urging Muslims to form a delegation alongside Christians and Jewish religious leaders to visit Jerusalem as a step toward peace.
“We should send a peace convoy that is representative of all three Abrahamic religions. They should be Muslim, Christian and Jewish and they should visit all holy sites,” Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Alissa told Fox News in an interview Thursday. “They should meet everyone and find common ground, and they should provide fertile ground to find solutions for peace.”
Alissa stressed the delegation should be made up of religious leaders from each of the three faiths, instead of political figures. “They should be independent of politics, they should have no political agenda whatsoever. They will be more influential without a political agenda because they are independent,” he said.
Nor should the delegation be viewed as an effort from any particular nation, Alissa said. “This visit is not from Saudi Arabia and it should not represent Saudi Arabia," said the former Saudi justice minister. "It comes from the Muslim world, the Christian world and the Jewish world. It has no relevance to any country whatsoever.”
Alissa said he sees the prospective meeting in Jerusalem as a step toward what will some day be a more broad cross-faith acceptance of different faiths. For example, while Saudi Kingdom itself still only officially recognizes Islam in its laws, Alssa said “without a doubt” the time will come when all people can go to any country and openly practice whatever faith they choose.
AIissa – an outspoken advocate of “interfaith” dialogue – joined Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, and other faith leaders at the Muslim World League’s 2nd Annual “Cultural Rapprochement Between the U.S. and the Muslim World” summit in New York this week.
“The chief role of this conference is to keep extremists from taking any advantage of any intellectual holes that they can use to promote their extremist ideologies and have the opinions of well-established scholars. The extremists are not happy with this conference,” Alissa said. “We encourage civilized dialogue with the United States, and this does not make the extremists happy. We are here to thwart this extremism."
Alissa's positions reflect a quiet warming of ties between the Sunni Arab nation and Israel, who have developed a common - and active - adversary in the region in Iran. While the two countries have no official diplomatic ties, they have developed an intelligence-sharing channel. Reports since 2016 have circulated saying the kingdom had begun altering its attitude toward Israel, and has been condemning rampant anti-Semitism in other Arab nations.
Alissa has also been one of the most prominent Muslim leaders in the region who recognize the abhorrence of the Holocaust, and has consistently rebuked Holocaust deniers.
Alissa is seen as an ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam, who has enacted a series of reforms since being named heir to the Saudi throne in 2017. Although controversial – particularly in the area of human rights - the prince's reforms are part of his “Vision 2030” plan, which includes women now legally able to drive, the reopening movie theaters, with the goal of ultimately returning the hardline religious country to “moderate Islam.”
The quiet Israeli-Saudi alliance is indeed a product of “common concern with Iran’s meddling and other destabilizing regional forces,” said Nimrod Novik, former foreign policy senior advisor to then Israeli President Shimon Peres and a member of the Executive Committee of Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a network of 280 retired Israeli generals. “Both sides would like to combine intelligence and operational capabilities in addressing these challenges,” Novik told Fox News. “However, given internal and other sensitivities, the Saudis keep urging Israel to provide political cover for it all by making progress on the Palestinian issue.”
Novik stressed advancements in Saudi-Israeli relations have proceeded slowly, and are riddled with complexities.
“It is characterized by discretion, in that is not visible to hostile and other eyes. It is mostly ad hoc, that is not on an ongoing basis; and largely by proxy,” Novik noted. “That is via the good offices of the U.S.”