Saudis said offering to renew aid to PA to gain its support for Israel normalization

Crown prince reportedly made offer to Abbas in April, conditioning it on PA chief securing control of West Bank, but officials say goal is to ensure legitimacy for deal with Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, April 19, 2023. (Wafa)
File: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, April 19, 2023. (Wafa)

Saudi Arabia has reportedly proposed renewing its aid to the Palestinian Authority in a possible sign that Riyadh is looking to coax Ramallah into backing its effort to normalize relations with Israel.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first made the offer to renew aid — frozen completely in 2016 amid graft allegations — when PA President Mahmoud Abbas visited the Gulf kingdom in April, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing unnamed Saudi officials.

A deal with Jerusalem would likely be unpopular for many Saudis given the strong pro-Palestinian sentiment in the Gulf country. Therefore, a stamp of approval from Ramallah on a normalization deal with Israel could help mitigate public blowback in Saudi Arabia and in the Muslim world more broadly.

At the same time, the PA’s legitimacy among Palestinians is at one of its lowest points in years due to allegations of corruption and Abbas’s refusal to hold presidential elections since 2005. Accordingly, Riyadh might need more than Ramallah’s acquiescence in order to sell the deal at home and abroad.

The crown prince, colloquially known as MBS, said the funding would be renewed if Abbas managed to rein in terror groups in the West Bank and restore control over PA territories beyond the Green Line. The Saudi leader also promised Abbas that any deal with Israel would not harm efforts to establish a Palestinian state, current Saudi officials and former Palestinian officials briefed on the talks told the WSJ.

Observers have noted that the PA has little control over parts of the West Bank, particularly the northern city of Jenin. Multiple attacks on Israelis in recent years have been carried out by Palestinians from the area.

Saudi sources clarified that the aid offer was not directly linked to a potential Israel normalization deal, though Riyadh hopes it will provide Ramallah with more of an incentive to back the kingdom’s effort.

The officials also said that Abbas’s backing for normalization was needed to legitimize such a deal and prevent accusations against Riyadh that it is advancing its own interests at the expense of the Palestinians’ pursuit of statehood.

An undated image of members of the Jenin Battalion, a terror group comprising members of different Palestinian armed factions, most prominently Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (Telegram/used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Several PA officials refused to comment on the report.

In contrast to its boycott of previous normalization efforts, the PA has reportedly decided to become involved in the Saudi-Israel process in an attempt to secure as many deliverables from Israel in the process.

A delegation of senior Palestinian officials is set to travel to Saudi Arabia next week to discuss the demands Riyadh is set to make of Israel as part of a potential normalization agreement.

Channel 13 said Sunday that after initially believing that a deal with Saudi Arabia would not require major gestures to the Palestinians, Israel’s leadership is now beginning to understand that it will in fact have to offer something significant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views normalization with Riyadh as a key foreign policy goal and one that could cement his legacy. But the prospect of Israel’s current government approving any material concessions to the Palestinians is far from certain due to various far-right elements of the coalition.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich asserted Monday that Israel will not make concessions to the Palestinians as part of any normalization deal.

Some commentators have floated the possibility of the premier ditching his hardline partners if a deal were on the table in favor of a more centrist coalition with current opposition parties. However, this also seems highly unlikely given the intense animosity between the sides, and opposition leaders have ruled it out publicly.

Still, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the Israel National News site on Tuesday that a normalization deal was possible “within the next six months.”

Riyadh’s demand for a green light from Washington to develop a nuclear program is part of the broader US-Saudi talks that could cement a deal between Jerusalem and Riyadh. In exchange for establishing relations with the Jewish state, the Saudis are also believed to be seeking access to advanced American defense technology and a defense alliance with the US.

For its side of the deal, Washington is seeking a reverse of the Saudis’ economic and military ties with China and Russia and a bolstering of the truce that ended the civil war in Yemen.

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