Saudi Arabia Appoints Envoy to Palestinians Amid Push for Ties With Israel

by Pelican Press
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Saudi Arabia has appointed its first envoy to the Palestinian administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a move widely seen as linked to efforts led by the United States to forge diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The Saudi envoy to Jordan, Nayef Al-Sudairi, will now concurrently serve as a “nonresident ambassador to the State of Palestine,” the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Saturday in a brief statement. Saudi Arabia recognizes Palestinian statehood across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories that Israel captured during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

The announcement came amid escalating efforts by the United States to establish formal relations for the first time between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It also followed speculation in Israel that Saudi Arabia — which has long opposed enacting formal ties until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been resolved — might now be prepared to do so without Israel’s providing the Palestinians with greater autonomy.

“It’s sort of a check box,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in an interview broadcast last week. “You have to check it to say you’re doing it.”

But Saudi and Palestinian analysts said that the appointment of Ambassador Al-Sudairi showed that Riyadh was serious about securing better treatment for the Palestinians.

“This is the Saudi way of communicating something,” said Abdulaziz Alghashian, a Saudi expert on Riyadh’s relationship with Israel. “They’re saying that this is a bit more than a check in a box.”

The Saudi ambassador to Jordan has long informally overseen the Palestinian file, in practice if not in name. The formal acknowledgment of that dual role is “ a reaction to the perception in Israeli circles that the Saudis don’t really care about the Palestinians,” said Mr. Alghashian, who is based in Riyadh.

If a deal is reached in the coming year, it is expected to involve a three-way agreement in which the United States provides Riyadh with greater military support and help for a civil nuclear program, and Israel offers the Palestinians some kind of concession.

On Sunday, the Israeli government, which is dominated by lawmakers opposed to Palestinian sovereignty, continued to downplay the relevance of the Palestinian component of the negotiations.

Eli Cohen, the Israeli foreign minister, said on Sunday in a radio interview that the announcement was largely symbolic. “The Saudis want to convey a message to the Palestinians that they were not forgotten,” Mr. Cohen said. But in reality, “the Palestinian issue is not the main issue within the talks,” he added.

But Palestinians took heart from the announcement — particularly its assertion that the ambassador would also serve, at least in name, as consul general in Jerusalem. Israel has controlled all of Jerusalem since 1967 and declared the city as its undivided capital, but Palestinians hope that at least part of it will one day serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

The appointment of a consul there is seen as support for those Palestinian aspirations, said Ibrahim Dalalsha, director of the Horizon Center, a Palestinian research group in Ramallah, West Bank.

“On a deeper level, it’s seen from a Palestinian perspective as a message that the Saudis will not abandon the Palestinians in their consultations with the U.S. and Israel on a possible normalization deal,” he said.

But Mr. Cohen, the Israeli foreign minister, said Israel would not permit Saudi Arabia to open a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem.

“We do not allow countries to open consulates” to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, he said. “This is not compatible with us.”

Israel established diplomatic relations in 2020 with three Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, ending years of isolation in the Arab world and leading to speculation that Saudi Arabia would be next. The Biden administration has now made Saudi-Israeli relations one of its key foreign-policy goals.

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