First Saudi envoy to the Palestinians visits West Bank
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP):
SAUDI ARABIA’S newly appointed envoy to the Palestinian Authority presented his credentials to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his first visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday, a trip linked to American efforts to normalise ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The visit by non-resident ambassador Nayef al-Sudairi, who also serves as the Saudi ambassador to Jordan, is widely seen as an attempt by the kingdom to address the key sticking point in the Saudi-Israeli normalisation deal – Saudi Arabia’s long-standing support for the Palestinians. The Saudi government has said it will only normalise ties with Israel if there is major progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
To kick off his two-day trip, the Saudi diplomat met with Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank, and other senior Palestinian officials.
“God willing, this visit will be just the beginning of things to come, with the coordination of senior Palestinian officials who are architects of our relations,” al-Sudairi told journalists after meeting with Abbas.
Some 16 years ago, Arab leaders convened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to reaffirm the Arab Peace Initiative, pledging no diplomatic recognition of Israel without a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although Palestinians still live under an open-ended Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade in Gaza, a landmark diplomatic deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia has in recent weeks appeared to gain momentum.
But several obstacles to such an agreement remain. The Saudis are seeking a defence pact with the United States and want help in building their own civilian nuclear programme, which has fuelled fears of an arms race with Iran.
Saudi Arabia also wants Israel to grant at least some kind of concession to the Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war.
On Tuesday in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, al-Sudairi reiterated the kingdom’s position in support of the creation of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.