Middle East Eye / September 4, 2023
Sources say top PA leaders are open to hearing issues raised by Saudi Arabia to push normalization.
A Palestinian Authority (PA) delegation will discuss Ramallah’s role in a possible Saudi Arabia–Israel normalization deal in an upcoming meeting with American and Saudi officials in Riyadh, sources have told Middle East Eye.
The delegation will travel to Saudi Arabia on Monday and include Hussein al-Sheikh, President Mahmoud Abbas’s deputy, Majed Farag, head of the PA intelligence service (GIS), and Majdi Khaldi, senior diplomatic advisor to Abbas.
The trio will hold discussions with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, and the national security advisor, Musaed bin Mohammed al-Aiban. They will also meet with Brett McGurk, the White House’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
According to Palestinian sources with knowledge of the trip, the PA officials will discuss issues raised by Saudi Arabia about the possible normalization deal without presenting specific demands.
For months, Washington has been leading efforts to strike a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel that would see them establish formal ties.
Saudi Arabia has held out the offer to normalize ties with Israel since 2002 under the Arab Peace Plan, which calls for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
However, many analysts and people familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking tell MEE they believe Riyadh would settle for much less.
In exchange for normalizing ties, Saudi Arabia wants security guarantees from the US, help in developing a civilian nuclear program, and fewer restrictions on US arms sales.
While the Palestinian issue is not thought to be central to the agreement, a component of the deal would include possible benefits to the Palestinians.
A senior source in Fatah, which dominates the PA, told MEE that some elements within the Ramallah-based authority are reconsidering this approach.
“They think normalization is happening with or without us, so they may as well benefit from it, at least politically and financially,” the source said.
Demands and possibilities
Last week, Israeli outlets reported a list of demands presented by the PA to US officials at a “tense” meeting in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
They included transferring parts of the so-called Area C in the occupied West Bank to partial Palestinian control, a move that would not likely get the approval of Israel’s ultranationalist government, which has pushed for annexation of Area C.
The West Bank was divided into three areas during the Oslo Accords, giving the PA limited control in areas A and B, while Israel was given full control in Area C, which forms 60 percent of the Palestinian territory.
Other Palestinian demands included getting backing from Washington for recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem, and the resumption of “final status” negotiations between Palestinians and the Israelis.
As the PA takes a pragmatic approach to the potential Saudi deal with Israel, Riyadh has reportedly offered to resume financial aid to Ramallah frozen since 2020.
Saudi Arabia was one of the top funders of the PA between 1994 and 2020, giving it almost 10 percent of the total aid it received in that period. The aid package in the past reached more than $200m a year.
The PA has denied any link between the resumption of financial aid and the normalization deal.
However, the Fatah source who spoke to MEE said the PA is not likely to receive anything “other than money and some non-enforceable political gestures” from the potential agreement.
“Saudi Arabia wants to ensure Palestinian silence over the deal, and the PA will agree to normalization in the end,” the source said.
The deal could generate anger among the Saudi and Arab public, which is why Riyadh is seeking to get “Palestinian cover” to justify it, according to Ayman Talal Yousef, professor of international relations at the Arab American University.
The Palestinian issue will likely remain low on the agenda, with Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel prioritizing other geopolitical interests, Yousef told MEE.