Israel rules out Jerusalem base for Saudi envoy to Palestinians

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Israel ruled out on Sunday a diplomatic base in Jerusalem for the new Saudi envoy to the Palestinians, whose appointment comes as Washington tries to forge formal Israeli relations with Riyadh.

Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Nayef Al-Sudairi on Saturday expanded his credentials to include non-resident envoy to the Palestinians.

Screengrab taken from Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Twitter account

A social media post by his embassy in Amman said “consul-general in Jerusalem” was now among Al-Sudairi’s duties.

That appeared to correspond with the Palestinians’ long-standing and so-far fruitless goal of founding a state in territories occupied by Israel in a 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as capital.

Israel deems Jerusalem its own capital, a status recognised by the United States under then-President Donald Trump in 2017 but not by other world powers. Israeli authorities bar Palestinian diplomatic activity in the city.

Saudi Arabia has championed the Palestinian cause and shunned official ties with Israel but the US is seeking to promote what could be a historic Middle East deal that would include normalising Israeli-Saudi relations.

“This (Al-Sudairi) could be a delegate who will meet with representatives in the Palestinian Authority,” Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.

“We will not allow the opening of any kind of diplomatic mission” in Jerusalem, Cohen added.

“Will there be an official physically sitting in Jerusalem? This we will not allow,” he said.

Screengrab taken from Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM’s Twitter account

Israel’s hard-right government has played down any prospect of it giving significant ground to the Palestinians as part of a normalisation deal with Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh has previously conditioned recognition of Israel on Palestinians’ statehood goal being addressed. Among challenges to that goal is the schism between the internationally backed Palestinian administration and its armed Islamist rival Hamas.

Bassam Al-Agha, the Palestinian ambassador to Riyadh, cast Al-Sudairi’s appointment as Saudi affirmation of Palestinian statehood and “rejection of what had been announced by former US President Trump”.

“This means a continuation of Saudi Arabia’s positions,” Al-Agha told Voice of Palestine radio.

While Cohen said Al-Sudairi’s appointment had not been coordinated with Israel, he saw a possible link to the normalisation prospects.

“What is behind this development is that, against the backdrop of progress in the US talks with Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Saudis want to relay a message to the Palestinians that they have not forgotten them,” Cohen said.