update deskMiddle East

Saudi officials meet Abbas in Ramallah

The visitors are led by Nayef al-Sudairi, Riyadh’s first non-resident envoy to the P.A. and consul general to Jerusalem.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (second from left) at a meeting with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris, June 16, 2023. Source: Twitter.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (second from left) at a meeting with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris, June 16, 2023. Source: Twitter.

A Saudi delegation arrived in Ramallah on Tuesday for a meeting with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, amid an ongoing U.S.-led diplomatic effort to normalize relations between Israel and the kingdom.

The delegation is headed by Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Nayef al-Sudairi, Riyadh’s first-ever non-resident envoy to the P.A. and consul general to Jerusalem.

Al-Sudairi, a cousin of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and considered close to the royal family, presented his credentials to Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khalidi during a meeting in Amman, Jordan, in August.

Because Saudi Arabia does not have a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, the appointment did not require approval from Israel.

After presenting his credentials to Abbas, al-Sudairi referred to statements last week by Prince Mohammed, in which “he clearly indicated his great interest in the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people,” according to the P.A.-controlled Wafa news agency.

In an interview with Fox News, the crown prince said that normalization with Israel was “getting closer every day,” and that Riyadh could join the Abraham Accords “with the support from President [Joe] Biden’s administration to get to that point.”

On Tuesday, al-Sudairi also said that Saudi Arabia plans to open a consulate in the eastern part of Jerusalem.

Last month, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that Israel “won’t allow the opening of a diplomatic mission [to the P.A.] of any kind [in Jerusalem].”

P.A. Foreign Minister Riyad Malki on Tuesday hailed the visit, saying: “We are very happy with the presence of the Saudi ambassador in his second country, Palestine, and we believe that this step by the custodian of the two holy mosques [King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud] and the crown prince brings us very close as two countries, two peoples and leaders, and reflects the depth of the historical relations between them.”

The Saudis have proposed resuming financial assistance to Ramallah, in what has been construed as a sign the kingdom is paving the way to establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. 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.

Palestinian leaders are debating whether to accept a Saudi-Israel deal or to adopt the antagonistic stand that the P.A. 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.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that bringing Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords would constitute a “quantum leap” for peace in the Middle East.

In his address on Friday to the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu said that peace with the Sunni Muslim nation would have far-reaching implications, including encouraging other Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel.

He called the Abraham Accords “a pivot of history” and said the whole world is reaping their benefits. “All these are tremendous blessings,” said the premier.

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