Israeli Deputy FM and Saudi Prince Shake Hands

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MUNICH - An unusual bit of diplomacy took place at the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday when Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon shook hands with Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal.

Both men were slated to participate in a six-member panel at the international conference, along with delegates from Turkey, Egypt, Russia and the United States.

Ayalon, who arrived in Munich on Friday, learned that the panel had been split - the first would be made up of the Saudi prince, senior advisor to Egypt's Foreign Ministry Hossam Zaki and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The second panel would consist of Ayalon, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman and Russian academic Igor Yurgens.

In his opening remarks, Ayalon said refusing to sit with a representative of the State of Israel typified the schism that exists in the Middle East.

"[It seems] a representative of a country with a lot of oil…did not want to sit with us," Ayalon began, suggesting that this kind of behavior is at the core of the region's problems.

Lieberman said he too was "disappointed with the Saudis" after learning that the six-member panel had been split in two because Saudi Arabia's delegate refused to sit on a panel with an Israeli.

Peace is important to Israel, Ayalon said, "not just strategically but as a moral obligation since it will affect us as a Jewish and democratic state."

"Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and did what was asked of it in negotiations with the Palestinians," he said.

During the question-and-answer session, Turki said he had not been the one who asked that the panel be divided.

"If indeed it was not him who objected to my being here with him, I would welcome him to shake my outstretched hand," Ayalon responded.

Turki arose and walked toward the podium; Ayalon stepped down to meet him.

"Israel is committed to peace," Ayalon said as the two men shook hands.

The following day, Agence France Press quoted the prince as saying that the handshake was not a repudiation of his "strong objections and condemnations" of Israel's policies "against the Palestinians" and "what amounts to theft committed on Arab lands."

"This event should not be taken out of context or misunderstood," Turki said.


The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report. 

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