Nayef al-Sudairi, the newly appointed Saudi ambassador to the Palestinians, reportedly canceled a planned visit Wednesday to the Al Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount as part of his current visit to the West Bank.
The diplomat will visit Islam’s third-holiest site on one of his future trips, according to the Haaretz daily.
His arrival in Ramallah on Tuesday marked the first time Saudi Arabia has sent a diplomatic delegation to the West Bank since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Al-Sudairi, who is also ambassador to Jordan, presented his credentials as non-resident ambassador to the Palestinian Authority and consul general to East Jerusalem.
Palestinian reports cited by Haaretz had said the Saudi delegation was expected to visit Al-Aqsa on the occasion of the Mawlid, the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday. The reports were neither confirmed nor denied by official Palestinian or Saudi sources.
The visit would have been the first by an official Saudi delegation since Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. The reports noted that the Saudis were aiming to keep it low-profile to prevent Israeli interference in the specifics of the visit and to prevent Palestinian protests.
However, the reports of the planned visit sparked critical reactions by Palestinians on social media, with some considering it a sign of normalization with Israel and calling to prevent it. According to Palestinian sources quoted by Haaretz, the Saudi delegation understood the sensitivity of the issue for the Palestinians, and decided to postpone it.
The ambassador’s visit comes as Israel and Saudi Arabia inch closer to signing a normalization deal. The Saudis have demanded a number of concessions to the Palestinians, while giving up on their earlier demands spelled out in their 2002 Arab Peace Initiative for the creation of a Palestinian state.