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Israeli, Saudi sources: US focus on Palestinians harming normalization

Riyadh is not pressuring Jerusalem to make hefty concessions to Ramallah.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 7, 2023. Source: Twitter.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 7, 2023. Source: Twitter.

There is growing frustration among Israeli and Saudi officials over what they see as an overemphasis by Washington on having Jerusalem make concessions to the Palestinians as a means of moving forward in the normalization process between the kingdom and the Jewish state.

Sources familiar with the ongoing talks said the Biden administration’s focus on this has hampered the process’s momentum and obstructed possible breakthroughs.

One source noted that on the big issues—including a possible U.S.-Saudi defense alliance that would come alongside a new civilian nuclear program in the kingdom—there are no insurmountable gaps because the disagreements are not substantial.

The source noted, though, that the American emphasis on the Palestinian aspect has been perceived as over the top and thus had the potential of undermining the entire process.

The criticism of the White House among Israeli figures and Saudi elements has been voiced behind closed doors. The officials stress that Riyadh is not part of the pressure on Israel to make major diplomatic concessions to the Palestinians.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with Fox News that aired on Sept. 20, refused to make demands from Israel on the Palestinian issue. He has stated that his expectation is merely that Israel “improve the lives of Palestinians.”

Nevertheless, Biden administration officials engaged in the mediation process between Israel and Saudi Arabia have floated a series of demands from Israel on this issue.

The U.S. asked Israel to allow the reopening of an independent American consulate general in Jerusalem that would effectively serve as a diplomatic mission to the Palestinians. Additionally, pressure is mounting on Israel to increase economic support for the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has increased its financial support to the Palestinians using various accounting measures and reducing tax collection. This has resulted in 350 million shekels ($91 million) of additional funds going to Ramallah from Israel since the beginning of 2023. This is apparently a result of U.S. pressure to strengthen P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Friday, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Jerusalem and Riyadh have “hammered out” the contours of a possible deal to bring the kingdom into the Abraham Accords.

The Trump administration-brokered accords normalized relations between Israel and four Arab nations: The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

“As in any complex arrangement, as this will inevitably be, everybody is going to have to do something. And everybody is going to have to compromise on some things,” said Kirby.

Saudi Arabia is not conditioning a peace deal with Israel on the establishment of a Palestinian state, Reuters reported over the weekend.

As part of an agreement, the Palestinians could nonetheless receive a huge influx of Saudi aid as well as Israeli concessions that would fall short of statehood, said the report, citing three unnamed regional officials.

Last week, Tourism Minister Haim Katz became the first Israeli Cabinet minister to be granted an entry visa by the Saudi government, arriving in Riyadh to participate in a conference of the United Nations World Tourism Organization and mark World Tourism Day, celebrated annually on Sept. 27.

Concurrently, a delegation 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, traveled to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently told U.S. President Joe Biden during a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly debate in New York: “I think that under your leadership, Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“And I think such a peace would go a long way first to advance the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state, and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Netanyahu.

The Wall Street Journal reported the same week that Netanyahu instructed his country’s leading nuclear and security specialists to work with U.S. negotiators to find a compromise that lets Saudi Arabia enrich uranium.

Israeli officials are “quietly working” with the White House to develop a “U.S.-run, uranium-enrichment operation” in Saudi Arabia for a civilian nuclear program, a key condition of the kingdom for accepting a normalization agreement with Israel, officials from both countries told the Journal.

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 to the U.N. General Assembly, he said that a deal with Riyadh 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.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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