Israel rejects diplomatic base for new Saudi envoy in occupied Jerusalem

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Israel rejected the possibility of establishing a diplomatic base in Jerusalem for the new Saudi envoy to the Palestinians. This appointment comes as the United States seeks to facilitate formal Israeli relations with Saudi Arabia.

Nayef Al-Sudairi, the Saudi Ambassador to Jordan, expanded his credentials on Saturday to encompass the role of non-resident envoy to the Palestinians. The Saudi embassy in Amman posted on social media that the “consul-general in Jerusalem” was now part of Al-Sudairi’s duties.

This development aligns with the Palestinians’ longstanding objective of establishing a state in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as its capital. However, Israel considers Jerusalem its own capital, a stance recognized by the United States in 2017 under former President Donald Trump, though not by other global powers. Israeli authorities prohibit Palestinian diplomatic activities in the city.

While Saudi Arabia has historically supported the Palestinian cause and avoided official ties with Israel, the United States is working to foster a potentially historic Middle East agreement that could involve the normalization of Israeli-Saudi relations.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen stated, “This [Al-Sudairi] could be a delegate who will meet with representatives in the Palestinian Authority.” However, he emphasized that Israel will not allow the establishment of any diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, nor will there be an official presence situated physically in the city.

Israel’s right-leaning government has downplayed the possibility of making significant concessions to the Palestinians in the context of a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has previously conditioned recognition of Israel on addressing the Palestinians’ statehood aspirations. Challenges to this goal include the division between the internationally backed Palestinian administration and the armed Islamist group Hamas.

Bassam Al-Agha, the Palestinian ambassador to Riyadh, interpreted Al-Sudairi’s appointment as Saudi support for Palestinian statehood and a rejection of former US President Trump’s pronouncements. Al-Agha conveyed that this indicates Saudi Arabia’s consistency in its positions.

Although Cohen stated that Al-Sudairi’s appointment was not coordinated with Israel, he speculated that it might be linked to the ongoing normalization talks between Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel. Cohen suggested that this development might convey to the Palestinians that Saudi Arabia has not forgotten them amidst the progress in these talks.