analysisMiddle East

Palestinians wonder where Saudi peace train will take them

P.A. participation in talks on the issue is "legitimizing the Israeli occupation" without getting anything in return, a Palestinian source says.

The Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, Aug. 11, 2019. Photo by Maayan Berrebi/TPS.
The Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, Aug. 11, 2019. Photo by Maayan Berrebi/TPS.
Baruch Yedid

A Palestinian Authority delegation departed for Riyadh on Tuesday hoping to influence efforts to deliver an Israeli-Saudi peace agreement.

The talks, scheduled to occur over the coming days, will feature negotiations between the Palestinian delegation and Saudi officials, followed by meetings with a U.S. delegation that has also arrived in Riyadh. The American presence underscores the pivotal role that the Biden administration seeks to play in facilitating a peace deal.

But the P.A.’s participation in those talks is creating angst among some Palestinian officials.

“The very Palestinian presence in Saudi Arabia is legitimizing the Israeli occupation without receiving a significant political return,” a Palestinian source said. “The Saudi train has set off and it may also run over the Palestinians.”

The source argued that “the appointment of the Saudi ambassador to the Palestinian Authority and [Israel Minister of Strategic Affairs] Ron Dermer’s statements about Israel’s willingness to review the nuclear issue, which Saudi Arabia demands, are extremely dangerous indications from the point of view of the Palestinians.”

According to Dermer, an Israeli-Saudi peace agreement would be a “first-rate Israeli strategic achievement in the Middle East, far beyond the agreements with the other countries of the Abraham Accords.”

The Saudis seek American security guarantees regarding Iran, advanced weapons, and U.S. assistance to develop a civilian nuclear program. Washington wants Riyadh to prepare a significant aid package for the Palestinians and for Israel to make significant concessions to the Palestinians.

Sources close to the Saudi and Israeli leadership have made conflicting comments on Palestinian linkage. According to the Gulf sources, the Saudis are conditioning normalization on progress on the Palestinian front, but the Israeli sources say Riyadh has made no such stipulations.

The Palestinian source said the Washington-Ramallah dialogue was “designed to pressure the Palestinians, and not to get their consent.”

But a recent report on the Arabic news site Elaph said that Palestinian-Saudi discussions held in Amman on Saturday centered on the transfer of Saudi funds to P.A. officials in the Gaza Strip. A mechanism of joint supervision by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the P.A. was proposed to ensure that Hamas would not benefit.

The Saudis have laid out their expectations for the P.A., which include fostering Palestinian political unity and retaking security control over areas of northern Samaria where Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist groups operate with little to no resistance from P.A. security forces.

Concurrently, the Saudis reaffirmed their commitment to a two-state solution and recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

The Saudis would also like a peace agreement with Israel to reboot the Temple Mount’s status quo and have Riyadh replace Amman as custodian of the Jerusalem holy site.

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