Palestinians, Israel differ on significance of new Saudi envoy

On Sunday, Israel firmly rejected the possibility of any future physical presence in Jerusalem for the initial Saudi envoy to the Palestinians. This decision came even as they portrayed his appointment as an endorsement of their aspiration for a state that encompasses part of the city as its capital.

Saudi Ambassador to Jordan, Nayef Al-Sudairi, expanded his credentials on Saturday to encompass the role of a non-resident envoy to the Palestinians. A social media post from his embassy noted that \”consul-general in Jerusalem\” had also been added to Al-Sudairi\’s responsibilities.

This move followed reports of some progress in Washington\’s attempts to mediate the establishment of formal relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Previously, Saudi Arabia had refrained from such a pact until the issue of Palestinian statehood was addressed.

Expressing a sense of exclusion due to these escalated indirect negotiations, the Palestinians expressed hope earlier in the month that Riyadh would acknowledge their concerns and coordinate with them. Their sentiment became more optimistic following Al-Sudairi\’s appointment.

Palestinian Ambassador to Riyadh, Bassam Al-Agha, interpreted the \”consul-general in Jerusalem\” title as a continuation of Saudi Arabia\’s stance. He further characterized the appointment as a \”rejection\” of the 2017 U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel\’s capital during an interview with Voice of Palestine radio.

The Palestinians seek a state within the territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as its capital. U.S.-sponsored negotiations on achieving this objective with Israel hit an impasse over a decade ago. Obstacles include Israeli settlement of occupied land and internal conflict between Western-backed Palestinian authorities and Hamas Islamists who reject coexistence with Israel.

Jerusalem also remains a point of contention, as Israel considers it its undivided capital, a status not widely acknowledged internationally. Israeli authorities prohibit Palestinian diplomatic activities in the city.

Al-Sudairi presented his credentials to the Palestinian mission in Amman, suggesting that his base would remain in the Jordanian capital.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen indicated that Al-Sudairi could function as a delegate interacting with representatives from the Palestinian Authority. However, Cohen emphasized that the presence of an official physically stationed in Jerusalem would not be permitted.

Israel\’s right-wing government has downplayed the possibility of making substantial concessions to the Palestinians as part of a prospective normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Cohen explained, \”This (Al-Sudairi\’s appointment) could be a representative who engages with Palestinian Authority delegates. But will there be an official physically present in Jerusalem? This is something we will not allow.\”

He further suggested that the development of Al-Sudairi\’s appointment aimed to convey to the Palestinians that, amid progress in U.S. discussions with Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Saudis have not disregarded their concerns.

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