Israel has announced that it will not allow Saudi Arabia to open a diplomatic mission for the Palestinians in Jerusalem, following the appointment of the first-ever Saudi ambassador to Palestine on Saturday.
The Saudi envoy, Nayef al-Sudairi, who is also the ambassador to Jordan and a cousin of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, presented his credentials to the Palestinian Authority (PA) at a ceremony in Amman. He was named as the non-resident ambassador to Palestine and consul general in Jerusalem, a title that implies Saudi recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, not Israel.
However, Israel, which claims Jerusalem as its own capital and bars Palestinian diplomatic activity in the city, rejected the idea of a permanent Saudi presence there. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told a local radio station on Sunday that al-Sudairi could meet representatives of the PA but would have no fixed office. “Will there be an official physically sitting in Jerusalem? This we will not allow,” Cohen said.
The Saudi move comes amid US efforts to broker a historic deal that would normalise relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two regional rivals that share a common enemy in Iran. The US has already persuaded four Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – to establish ties with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords last year.
However, Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a key supporter of the Palestinian cause, has been reluctant to follow suit. Riyadh has previously conditioned recognition of Israel on the resolution of the Palestinian issue and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
According to a recent report by The Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia is asking for significant concessions from Israel towards the creation of a Palestinian state as part of any potential normalization deal. These include a freeze on Israeli settlement expansion, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the reopening of border crossings with Gaza.
The Far-right Disagrees
However, Israel’s hard-right government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is unlikely to agree to such demands. Bennett, who opposes a two-state solution and supports annexing parts of the West Bank, has played down any prospect of giving significant ground to the Palestinians as part of a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.
The appointment of al-Sudairi as the Saudi ambassador to Palestine is seen by some analysts as a way for Riyadh to signal its continued commitment to the Palestinian cause and its rejection of any Israeli concessions that would undermine it. Bassam al-Agha, the Palestinian ambassador to Riyadh, said that al-Sudairi’s appointment was a “continuation of Saudi Arabia’s positions” and a “rejection of what had been announced by former US President Trump” regarding Jerusalem.
Lina Khatib, director of the SOAS Middle East Institute, said that al-Sudairi’s appointment was also a way for Saudi Arabia to lay out its own terms for any future normalization deal with Israel. “Saudi Arabia will not take formal steps towards normalization with Israel that would undermine Saudi Arabia’s own declared commitment to the issue of Palestine,” she said. “The appointment of a Saudi ambassador to Palestine is a signal that this commitment continues.”