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Saudi Arabia appoints first-ever envoy to PA and Jerusalem

Israel's FM stressed the gov't will not allow Riyadh to open a mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, April 18, 2023. Source: Saudi Foreign Ministry/Twitter.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, April 18, 2023. Source: Saudi Foreign Ministry/Twitter.

Saudi Arabia on Saturday appointed its first-ever non-resident envoy to the Palestinian Authority, who will double as consul general to Jerusalem.

Nayef al-Sudairi, who is currently Riyadh’s ambassador to Jordan, presented his credentials to P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khalidi during a meeting at Ramallah’s mission in Amman over the weekend.

“This important step will strengthen the strong relations that bind our two brotherly peoples,” Khalidi said in a statement on Saturday.

He also expressed Ramallah’s appreciation for the “firm stance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia towards the Palestinian people, and its permanent support for the Palestinian cause in all international forums.”

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

Because Saudi Arabia does not have a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, the appointment does not require approval from Israel, which considers the city its undivided capital.

“[The Saudis] don’t need to ask for permission from us. They didn’t coordinate [the move] with us and don’t need to coordinate with us. We won’t allow the opening of a diplomatic mission [to the P.A.] of any kind [in Jerusalem]” said Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Sunday.

The development comes amid efforts by the United States to forge an Israeli-Saudi normalization deal.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that American and Saudi officials were “negotiating the details of an agreement they hope to cement within nine-to-12 months.”

Sources cited by the newspaper said it would be “the most momentous Middle East peace deal in a generation.” They cautioned, however, that the deal still faces long odds, and that the White House has denied an agreement on the “broad contours” of a deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week he is confident his government can achieve some form of normalization with Saudi Arabia in the coming months.

“I think that we are about to witness a pivot of history,” he told Bloomberg in an interview. “If there is a political will, there will be a political way to achieve normalization and formal peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. That has enormous economic consequences for the investors and if they have to bet on it right now, I’d bet on it, but I can’t guarantee it,” he said.

Persian Gulf sources close to Saudi decision-makers and sources close to Netanyahu have voiced conflicting views regarding the Palestinian linkage. According to the sources in the Gulf, the Saudis are conditioning normalization with progress on the Palestinian front, but the Israeli sources say Riyadh has made no such stipulations.

Netanyahu on Monday downplayed claims that the Palestinian issue played a significant role in negotiations.

“Is that what’s being said in corridors? Is that what’s being said in discreet negotiations? The answer is a lot less than you think,” he said.

Asked what concessions Israel would be willing to make to the Palestinians, the prime minister refused to give specific examples.

“I’ll tell you what I’m not willing to give. I’m not willing to give anything that will endanger Israel’s security. That I will not do, but I think there is enough room to discuss possibilities,” he said.

“The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves and none of the powers to threaten Israel, which means that in whatever final peace settlement we’ll have with the Palestinians, I’d say Israel has an overriding security power in the entire area, ours and theirs. Otherwise, we collapse, they collapse,” said Netanyahu.

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