Saudi Arabia tries to reassure the Palestinians – but of what?
Saudi Arabia’s first envoy to the Palestinian Authority, Nayef al-Sudairi, is currently visiting the West Bank, where he’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Al-Sudairi is also expected to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Jews call the Temple Mount, which would mark the first visit of a Saudi official to East Jerusalem since Israel seized the territory in a 1967 war.
Why now? Al-Sudairi, who is also Saudi’s ambassador to Jordan, comes as Riyadh and Jerusalem are reportedly inching closer toward a diplomatic normalization deal – a huge development after Israel normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco in recent years.
What do the Saudis want? While Riyadh, custodian of two of the holiest sites in Islam, is attempting to show that it remains committed to the Palestinian cause, it is more concerned about getting Washington’s assistance to build a civilian nuclear program and other security guarantees from Uncle Joe. The Biden administration says these concessions would be contingent on Saudi normalization with Israel.
The view from the Palestinian camp is that a thaw between Israel and Saudi is a betrayal of the Palestinians and a departure from the Saudis’ previous position that they wouldn’t embrace Israel until the Palestinian issue was settled. Riyadh, for its part, had previously said that this would have to include Israel's withdrawal from some areas, such as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
For now, there’s every indication that Riyadh is moving full steam ahead: In a rare English-language interview last week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he wants to see “a good life for the Palestinians,” but he stopped short of saying that Palestinian statehood was linked to ongoing normalization efforts with Israel.