“What we have read from the news items is that Saudi has put different conditions regarding normalisation,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Thursday. “One of these conditions is really the end of the Israeli occupation and the materialisation of the state of Palestine.”
“If that’s really the case, then that’s really very important,” he added. ”I hope that the Saudis will stick to that position and not yield to any kind of pressure, [or] intimidation coming from the Biden administration or any other power.”
Maliki’s comments come after much speculation – mainly within the Israeli press – that Saudi Arabia and Israel are inching closer to a normalisation agreement.
Although Saudi Arabia was not a party to the deal, it was seen as tacitly supporting the thaw. In the following years, Saudi Arabia deepened cooperation with Israel, including publicly joining Israel in US-led naval exercises.
Last year, Riyadh also announced that it would open its airspace to Israeli flights in a deal brokered by the US.
In recent months, the Biden administration has become more outspoken about normalisation, declaring it in the interest of US national security. However, the US president himself has tried to tone down expectations of a deal. In July, Biden said that while Saudi Arabia “didn’t have much of a problem with Israel”, the two were “a long way” from normalising ties.
Analysts and former senior diplomats who have spoken with Middle East Eye have also cast doubt on talk of an immediate breakthrough.
In exchange for normalising ties, Riyadh wants security guarantees from the US, help in developing a civilian nuclear programme, and fewer restrictions on arms sales – all difficult sells in Congress, where many lawmakers continue to view Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as a pariah.
The elephant in the room, however, is Saudi Arabia’s position on Palestine. In January, Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat said the kingdom will not normalise ties until an independent Palestinian state is created, and the Saudis have not publicly indicated a change to that position.
Maliki’s comments underline Palestinian fears about being sidelined by a potential deal.
“Of course we would like very much to listen to the Saudis, to coordinate with the Saudis,” he said, adding that Riyadh ”could also hear from us about the steps that they should really undertake as necessary steps in order for the issue of Palestine to be resolved”.
Former diplomats with knowledge of the administration’s thinking have speculated with MEE that the crown prince could be persuaded to normalise ties for much less than the creation of an independent Palestinian state, such as some transfer of custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque to the Saudi ruling family.
Jordan’s ruling Hashemite monarchy is technically custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem, according to WWI era agreements.
Israel normalisation ‘extremely risky’
Regional competition within the Gulf also casts a shadow over the talks. While the Palestinians were not central to the Abraham Accords, the UAE still justified its decision to normalise on the grounds that it halted Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank.
In the preceding years, Israel has drastically increased illegal settlement construction, with new construction plans breaking records this year.
As custodian of Islam’s two holiest sites, Saudi Arabia is likely to have a higher bar to normalise ties, analysts tell MEE.
Abdullah Baabood, a nonresident scholar at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, told MEE previously that it would be “extremely risky” for Saudi Arabia to normalise ties now, when Israel is led by its most far-right and ultra-zionist government in history.
“It would undermine [Saudis] reputation…as it tries to act as a leader of the Arab world,” he said.
Maliki also said that Saudi Arabia was weighing revising the Arab peace process, which it spearheaded in the early 2000s, offering Israel recognition in exchange for the creation of an independent Palestinian state along Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
But it remains unclear how much weight the Palestinian Authority’s lobbying carries.
The PA has little power on the world stage and is widely unpopular in the occupied West Bank over its corruption, authoritarianism, and security cooperation with Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, aged 87, who has led the Palestinian Authority for nearly 20 years, has a severely diminished support base within the Palestinian public.
Disclaimer: Palestinian Authority asks Saudi Arabia not to yield to 'US pressure' over normalisation - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view