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Saudi funding offer to PA seen as step toward normalization with Israel

The kingdom contributed billions to Palestinian causes until cutting off funding over corruption.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Riyadh has proposed resuming financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, Saudi officials and former Palestinian officials say.

This is a sign the kingdom is paving the way to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

“Saudi officials say they are trying to secure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s support for open ties with Israel, providing more legitimacy to any eventual agreement and forestalling any accusations that the kingdom would sacrifice Palestinian efforts to establish an independent state to advance its own goals,” the Journal reported.

Earlier this month, Riyadh appointed its first-ever non-resident envoy to the P.A., who will double as consul general to Jerusalem.

Nayef al-Sudairi, who is already the Saudi ambassador to Jordan, presented his credentials to Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khalidi during a meeting at Ramallah’s mission in Amman.

Al-Sudairi is a cousin of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is considered close to the royal family.

Saudi Arabia holds a special status among Muslim states as it is home to Islam’s holiest sites. But it must tread carefully to avoid antagonizing Muslims the world over for whom the Palestinian cause is a central issue.

Palestinian leaders are debating whether to accept Saudi-Israel normalization or to adopt the antagonistic stand that it took in 2020 when the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, describing it as “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people.”

The P.A. is sending a senior delegation to Saudi Arabia next week to discuss how the Saudis can help advance the creation of a Palestinian state, the officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is eager for a deal with the Saudis precisely because of its pivotal position, repeatedly saying that bringing Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords would constitute a “quantum leap.”

“It will lead to the effective ending of the Israeli-Arab conflict—not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [but] the Israeli-Arab conflict, and will also help normalize Israel’s relationship with a great part of the Muslim world,” Netanyahu said.

Saudi Arabia contributed billions to Palestinian causes until cutting off funding in 2016 over P.A. corruption. Aid dropped from $174 million a year in 2019 to zero in 2021.

“Now, resumption of Saudi funding to the Palestinians could play an important role in securing their support for the kingdom’s outreach to Israel,” the Journal reported.

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