‘This is exactly the idea I had in mind – full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with UN resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for full normalisation of relations,’ he said. ‘I have drafted a speech along those lines. My thinking was to deliver it before the Arab summit and try to mobilise the entire Arab world behind it. The speech is written and it is in my desk. But I changed my mind about delivering it when Sharon took the violence and the oppression to an unprecedented level.’

Crown Prince Abdullah’s suggestion was cautiously welcomed by the US State Department as a ‘significant and positive step’. But Washington was unable to confirm its support for the conditions set out by Crown Prince Abdullah. ‘We have always supported the idea of negotiations within the framework of resolutions 242, 338, and the concept of land for peace,’ said a State Department spokesman.

Arab opinion has been generally positive. ‘With the setting up of an effective Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal from Syrian land and what remains of Lebanese territories, the problem between the Arabs and Israel will end,’ said Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa.

Egypt has also welcomed the proposal. ‘This is part of the efforts constantly made by Saudi Arabia – and for which it is thanked – to support the peace process and support Arab states to obtain their rights,’ said Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Maher. ‘The basic problem in the Middle East is illegal occupation of Arab lands, so of course withdrawal from them means an end to the problem.’

Palestinians, too, have hailed the chance to break the deadlock. ‘This is the most important offer that’s been made by the Arab world for decades,’ said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on 18 February. ‘Prince Abdullah’s offer is a very significant development that should be considered very seriously by the US and Israel. They must not waste this historic opportunity.’

The interview was made as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians intensified (see above).