Middle East Monitor / August 31, 2023
The Palestinian Authority has presented a list of demands to the authorities in Riyadh that it hopes will be put forward during the talks aimed at reaching an agreement for Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel, the occupation state’s Walla news site has claimed. The kingdom is also hoping to get security guarantees from the US as part of the deal.
Walla cited six American and Israeli “informed” sources, and indicated that the Palestinian demands relate to the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. They include an exchange of land with the occupation authorities and pushing Tel Aviv to resume negotiations with the PA.
According to Al-Araby al-Jadeed, a Palestinian delegation headed by the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Hussein al-Sheikh, is expected to visit Riyadh next week, as part of Saudi efforts to avoid opposition from the PA to the potential normalization agreement. The PA seeks to “promote its interests” under the current circumstances.
The Israeli website said that Palestinian demands include transferring parts of the West Bank in Area C, as designated by the Oslo Accords, to Palestinian civil control; opening a US Consulate in occupied Jerusalem for Palestinians; and resuming final status negotiations with Israel in preparation for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The list of Palestinian demands is said to be “an indication that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his advisors have decided to be pragmatic and avoid confrontation with Saudi Arabia.” This is unlike the approach adopted by the PA in response to the Abraham Accords signed by Israel with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020.
The Israelis believe that Abbas knows that he “will not be able to prevent an Israeli-Saudi normalization agreement,” and “instead of confrontation [with Saudi Arabia], he is trying to use the normalization efforts between Riyadh and Tel Aviv to gain something for the Palestinians.”
American and Israeli sources claim that Al-Sheikh is the person who leads on PA communications with the Saudis in this regard. Saudi Arabia’s National Security Advisor, Musaed al-Aiban, handles such communications on behalf of the kingdom.
“Al-Sheikh presented a document to Al-Aiban three months ago that included a list of potential measures that would benefit the Palestinians and that the Saudis could request as part of an agreement with Israel,” said Walla. Source were quoted as saying that one of the points in the document is that Israel should be pushed to take “irreversible” steps in the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian proposals include changing the classification of some areas in Area C to have the same legal status as Area B, meaning that they will go from being under Israel’s full control to being under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control.
According to the sources, the PA also proposed establishing a Saudi Consulate in Jerusalem and reopening the US Consulate that was closed by the previous US administration, as well as supporting moves to enhance recognition of Palestine as an independent state at the UN.
The document submitted by the PA to Saudi Arabia stipulates a transitional period of several years to begin after Israel takes the first steps, during which negotiations will be held between Israel and the PA regarding a permanent settlement of the conflict according to a pre-determined timetable. There is also a request to renew Saudi Arabia’s financial support for the PA, which Riyadh stopped several years ago.
The sources said that US President Joe Biden is aware of the content of the proposals. He is keen to agree a comprehensive deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel before the end of the first quarter of 2024, when the US presidential election campaign will begin to dominate Biden’s agenda.
Walla noted that Biden has made it clear to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that, “Israel will have to make major concessions in favour of the Palestinians as part of this deal in exchange for normalization with Saudi Arabia.” It pointed out that Netanyahu is not interested “in making such concessions, which are met with great opposition from the far-right parties that participate in his ruling coalition, as well as opposition from many leaders within the Likud Party, which may lead to the fall of the government.”
Palestinian Authority has ‘list of wants’ in exchange for Saudi-Israel normalization
Middle East Eye / August 31, 2023
Proposals include resumption of Saudi funding, more control over West Bank areas and the opening of a Saudi consulate in Jerusalem.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has delivered a set of demands to Saudi Arabia in exchange for his support for the normalization of relations between Israel and Riyadh, according to a US news outlet.
Citing a number of Israeli and American sources on Wednesday, Axios said the Palestinians want status changes to areas of the occupied West Bank at present considered Area C. These are currently off limits to the vast majority of Palestinian residents of the territory and are fully under Israeli military control.
Palestinian officials instead want the territories to be designated Area B, which are areas under Israeli security control but where the civilian administration is handled by the PA.
Other demands listed in the report include the opening of a Saudi consulate in Jerusalem and for the Israelis to resume final-status negotiations with a “clear timetable”.
Senior Abbas adviser Hussein al-Sheikh, who is leading the consultations on the issue with Riyadh, gave Saudi national security adviser Musaed bin Mohammed al-Aiban the list of possible deliverables three months ago, Axios reported.
An earlier Wall Street Journal report said Saudi officials were considering the resumption of financial aid to the PA in order to curry support for their normalization efforts with Israel.
In 2016, Riyadh reduced its aid to the PA and stopped it all together in 2019. The ostensible reason given then was the failure by Palestinian officials to prevent corruption.
Saudi Arabia has long been expected to join a growing list of Arab states normalizing their relations with Israel.
The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all signed deals with Israel in recent years, but Riyadh has been reluctant to proceed without gaining concessions from the Israelis in return. Abbas has strongly condemned those agreements as a “betrayal”.
Saudi officials have previously stated that there would be no normalization with Israel without the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but the latest reports by the US outlets don’t appear to show that to be a non-negotiable demand of the normalization efforts.
‘Closer than ever’
How close a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal is to being signed is difficult to predict given contradictory reports on how far the two sides have progressed in talks.
In June, former US State Department official Aaron David Miller told Middle East Eye that “we are closer than ever to a deal, given the fact that ‘ever’ was almost zero a few years ago”.
The administration of President Joe Biden is reportedly keen on securing a deal before the US presidential election of 2024, which is likely to be a rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump.
A deal would be a major diplomatic scalp for either of the candidates, who are both staunch supporters of Israel.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the de facto ruler of the kingdom, is reportedly waiting out for “something outstanding”.
While some of Riyadh’s demands involve the Palestinians, they fall below the “threshold of state”, according to analysts MEE has spoken to.
Saudi Arabia’s own wants include US guarantees on Saudi security and western support for its nuclear program.