As Saudis Consider Deal With Israel, Palestinians Seek Sway in Talks

When a gaggle of three Arab states cast landmark diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, the Palestinian management noticed the method as a betrayal: The offers upended a decades-old Arab apply of ostracizing Israel till the creation of Palestinian state.

Three years on, amid efforts by the United States to dealer the same pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Palestinian leaders are taking a distinct tack: engagement.

On Tuesday, three senior Palestinian envoys are set to reach in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, for discussions about what calls for Saudi Arabia might make on the Palestinians’ behalf in trade for forming ties with Israel.

That method reverses the dynamic in 2020, when Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates cast relations with Israel with out consulting the Palestinians — not to mention successful them lasting concessions. Back then, the Palestinians solely condemned the method.

While there stays little Palestinian enthusiasm for the normalization course of, the shift displays how the Palestinian management now feels it has extra to realize via involvement in the negotiations, at the very least at this early stage.

Since getting into workplace in December, Israel’s far-right authorities has entrenched management over the occupied West Bank, saying large expansions of Israeli settlements, making the prospect of a Palestinian state ever being created much more distant. Engagement with Saudi Arabia presents the Palestinians an opportunity to maintain regional assist for his or her trigger when momentum for it’s dwindling.

“Basically, they have internalized their past mistake,” mentioned Ibrahim Dalalsha, an analyst primarily based in Ramallah in the West Bank. In 2020, “they really felt that their reaction cost them,” Mr. Dalalsha mentioned. Now, they’ve “rethought the whole process.”

“There is no other alternative for the Palestinians,” he added.

For their half, the Saudis are additionally in search of extra vital concessions than these provided in 2020 to their neighbors the Emiratis.

As a quid professional quo for normalization, Riyadh needs better army cooperation with the United States, in addition to U.S. assist for a civil nuclear program.

But it additionally needs Israel to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, and is contemplating what to ask for, in accordance with diplomats briefed on the negotiations.

In 2020, the Emirati management secured solely a symbolic gesture: the momentary postponement of plans by Israel to annex the West Bank. Analysts suppose the Saudis, conscious of their highly effective function in the Middle East, wish to win one thing extra vital for the Palestinians.

“Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading state on the Islamic level,” mentioned Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian minister and a Ramallah-based analyst. “So they try to behave as such.”

The Palestinian and Saudi leaderships have been speaking since April about what the Palestinians would possibly acquire from the talks. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the semiautonomous Palestinian administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, visited Jeddah that month, and contacts have been maintained since. In a present of fine will final month, the Saudis appointed their first envoy to the Palestinians, Naif al-Sudairi.

Publicly, Mr. Abbas’s workplace says that it needs Saudi Arabia to accept nothing lower than a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, all territories captured by Israel through the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.

“There is only one demand: implementing the Arab Peace Initiative,” Majdi Khaldi, one of many three senior Palestinian officers touring to Riyadh, mentioned in a cellphone interview, referring to a Saudi-sponsored plan printed in 2002 that known as for the institution of such a state.

Mr. Khaldi, a international coverage adviser to Mr. Abbas, denied his authorities had made any smaller-scale proposals.

But in non-public, Palestinian officers have mentioned pushing for concessions which are extra modest, although primarily nonetheless unfeasible, in accordance with six diplomats briefed on the discussions, who asked for anonymity in order to talk extra freely, and an inventory of Palestinian speaking factors reviewed by The Times.

Those calls for embody the restoration of Saudi monetary assist for the Palestinians, which was phased out in current years, after a number one Saudi official expressed frustration at perceived Palestinian ingratitude.

The Palestinians calls for additionally embody U.S. assist for full Palestinian membership of the United Nations (the Palestinians have solely observer status), and the switch of extra land to Palestinian administrative management in the West Bank. Since the 1990s, Mr. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has exerted its restricted autonomy in solely 39 % of the territory; Israel immediately controls the remaining 61 %.

The restoration of Saudi monetary assist could possibly be a possible end result of the Palestinian engagement, however the different calls for seem overly formidable.

The Israeli authorities, dominated by ministers who favor annexing all the West Bank, is unlikely to cede territory.

And even when the Biden administration was to assist Palestinian membership of the United Nations, then that will probably set off a freeze on U.S. funding for the body, which receives roughly a fifth of its funds from Washington. Congress handed legislation in the 1990s that forces the United States to chop funding to any U.N. body that offers membership to the Palestinians.

But if the Palestinian management makes smaller calls for, that will danger drawing additional criticism from Palestinians who really feel Mr. Abbas mustn’t have engaged in the method in any respect.

“Any negotiations about a price for normalization are a strategic error,” mentioned Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian opposition politician primarily based in Ramallah. “They’re going to get nothing.” He added: “Any new normalization will only consolidate a system of apartheid and occupation.”

Some main worldwide, Israeli and Palestinian rights teams have accused Israel of training the crime of apartheid via its therapy of Palestinians, a cost that Israel denies.

But others really feel Mr. Abbas hardly has a alternative.

Boycotting the Saudi normalization course of would danger alienating each the U.S. and Saudi governments, two highly effective companions that Mr. Abbas can in poor health afford to disregard, Mr. Dalalsha mentioned.

“If you ask the Palestinians, ‘Do you really expect anything to happen?’ they would say: ‘No, and we wish it won’t happen,’” Mr. Dalalsha mentioned.

Nevertheless, he added, “They are keen not to be blamed for its failure.”

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