Report: Netanyahu speaking with MBS about Israel-Saudi flights; Riyadh demands major concessions

File: Benjamin Netanyahu (right) during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2021; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90; Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)
File: Benjamin Netanyahu (right) during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2021; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90; Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen have over the past 24 hours spoken on the phone with Saudi Crown Price Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) as part of “very complex” negotiations on launching direct flights between Israel and Jeddah next month for the Hajj annual Muslim pilgrimage, Channel 12 news reports.

MBS is holding the talks from Bahrain, with the mediation of that country’s foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, even though Israel prefers the United States as mediator, the report says, citing Saudi and Israeli sources.

Israel is under pressure from US President Joe Biden’s administration to agree to make significant concessions to the Palestinians in return, the report says.

These steps would include handing certain powers in the West Bank from the Israeli military to the Palestinian Authority forces, and giving the PA forces security-related authority in the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City — far-reaching steps that are highly unlikely to be approved by Israel’s hard-right government.

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