Palestinians on Sunday welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to appoint its first ambassador to “Palestine,” but expressed fear the move could be part of a larger US-engineered plan that would see the Kingdom normalize its relations with Israel.
On Saturday, the Saudis announced the appointment of Nayef al-Sudairi, the current ambassador to Jordan, as “Ambassador Extraordinary to the State of Palestine and Consul-General in Jerusalem.”
Al-Sudairi will continue to serve in his job in the Jordanian capital of Amman. He presented his credentials to Majdi al-Khailidi, Diplomatic Affairs Advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during a ceremony at the Palestinian embassy in Jordan.
Al-Sudairi is unlikely to move to Ramallah, where several countries have representative offices that serve as unofficial embassies. It’s also unlikely that the Saudis would open a consulate general in Jerusalem without Israel’s approval.
Saudi Arabia is the fourth Arab country to appoint an ambassador to the “State of Palestine” after Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco.
The Saudi move came amid increased talk about a possible normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Several reports have suggested that the Biden Administration has been pressuring the Saudis to strike a deal with Israel in the coming months.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah expressed deep satisfaction with the Saudi decision to upgrade the Kingdom’s ties with the Palestinians, describing it as a “diplomatic victory” and a “historic achievement.”
The Saudi decision will make it difficult for the Palestinian leadership to condemn Saudi Arabia if and when it reaches a normalization agreement with Israel. In the past, the Palestinian leadership strongly denounced the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for signing normalization agreements with Israel.
Abbas is said to have assured Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan that he won’t come out against a normalization deal between Riyadh and Jerusalem, according to another Palestinian official.
“The timing of the decision reflects the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s interest in the Palestinian cause as a main pillar of its foreign policy on the Arab, Islamic, and international arenas, and as an extension of the Kingdom’s historic and brotherly relations in support of the Palestinian cause and the rights of our people,” the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The Ministry said it was prepared to fully cooperate with the new Saudi ambassador “to facilitate his mission and strengthen bilateral relations.”
Palestinians uncertain of appointment's link to normalization efforts
A senior Palestinian official in Ramallah said he did not rule out the possibility that the Saudi decision was directly linked to the US effort to persuade the Kingdom to normalize its relations with Israel. “As far as we are concerned, this is a very good step in the right direction,” the official said. “We hope the Saudis took the decision to strengthen their relations with the Palestinians, and not as a way of appeasing them ahead of a normalization deal with Israel. Anyway, most of the reports we hear about an imminent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel do not seem credible.”
Former Palestinian negotiator and cabinet minister Hassan Asfour, who currently serves as editor of the Palestinian Amad news website, said he did not believe the Saudi move was disconnected from the issue of normalization with Israel. Asfour advised the Palestinian leadership to “find a way to discuss the issue of Israeli-Saudi normalization with the Saudi government. He further advised the Palestinian leadership to propose the formation of a committee consisting of the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to discuss regional developments and their connection to the Palestinian issue.
The Palestinian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bassam al-Agha said the Saudi decision “aims to send a message to the world that the Kingdom deals with Palestine as a state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
The Saudi move, he added, reflects a Saudi desire to strengthen the Kingdom’s relations with the Palestinian leadership and people.”
Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri told the Ramallah-based Wattan media outlet that the appointment of the Saudi ambassador came in the context of the US administration’s efforts to secure a normalization agreement between the Kingdom and Israel.
"According to my information, the Saudis have informed the Palestinian Authority that Palestine is included in this [normalization] deal,” al-Masri said, noting that the nature of the inclusion of the Palestinians in the agreement remains unclear. “What is certain is that the Palestinian Authority will receive financial aid in return for keeping silent. We must be cautious and not accept any deal that does not include the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem.”