DUBAI - Billionaire Saudi Prince al-Walid bin Talal on Monday gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the "benefit of the doubt" that he could broker a peace deal between the Jewish state and the Arabs.
"We should leave him the benefit of the doubt," Al-Walid said during a panel discussion at the Arab and World Media Conference organised by the Arab Thought Foundation in Dubai.
"There are many doubts about Sharon. He was a criminal ... (but) if he changes, I welcome that. Any person who can create peace between Israel and Arabs is welcome," he said.
"We have to see if Sharon can deliver."
Al-Walid urged Sharon, following his departure from the Likud party and his alliance with former Labour prime minister Shimon Peres, to end Israel's presence in the occupied West Bank as he did with the historical pullout from the Gaza Strip in August.
He hoped "Sharon and Peres can duplicate and repeat in the West Bank what happened in Gaza."
Considering Sharon a "criminal," Al-Walid said there was "no difference" between the Sabra and Shatila massacres during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon when Sharon was defense minister and the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.
Fifteen of the 19 people involved in the attacks were Saudi citizens.
"There is no difference" as both represent "the killing of innocent people," he said.
Al-Walid also criticised US policy in Iraq, but admitted that US forces could not leave the violence-plagued country in the near future.
"The US misunderstood the whole thing. I think the US does not understand Iraq," he said, but "in the short term the US cannot leave, they can only leave when Iraq is ready."
"The US could pull out with a face-saving process," he said.
Al-Walid also criticised US media which he described as "in general ... pro-Israel." But he also accused Arabs of not being pro-active in fighting the allegedly slanted media.
He said that during last month's street protests in France, the US television network Fox -- owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in which Al-Walid himself has shares -- ran a banner saying: "Muslim riots."
"I picked up the phone and called Murdoch... (and told him) these are not Muslim riots, these are riots out of poverty," he said.
"Within 30 minutes, the title was changed from Muslim riots to civil riots."