Palestinian delegation to visit Saudi Arabia to raise its demands in any Israel deal

Network says Ramallah changing tack, seeking to be involved in potential normalization this time as opposed to boycotting such processes in the past

In this photo provided by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the Arab summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
In this photo provided by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the Arab summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

A delegation of senior Palestinian officials is set to travel to Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks to discuss the demands Riyadh is set to make of Israel as part of a potential normalization agreement, according to a Sunday report.

Per Channel 13 news, senior Israeli officials understand the Saudi requirements pertaining to Israeli concessions to Palestinians will be at the heart of the visit.

The network said security officials believe the Palestinian Authority has decided in this case to change its tactics, electing to be involved in the process in an attempt to reap as many rewards as possible under any potential agreement, rather than boycott it as it did previous normalization efforts.

Without citing a source, the report added that Israeli leadership, previously hoping to reach an accord with the Saudis without significant steps toward the Palestinians, is beginning to internalize that this will not be so, and that the American and Saudi pressure on the matter is more than mere lip service.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Netanyahu implied that the Saudis aren’t especially concerned about what the Palestinians get out of a potential deal.

“I think the Palestinian thing is brought in all the time, and it’s sort of a check box. You have to check it to say that you’re doing it,” he said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles at the New Global Financial summit in Paris, June 22, 2023 (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

At the same time, Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Eli Cohen have both indicated that Israel is open to gestures to the Palestinians if a normalization deal depended on it.

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 Palestinians has been questioned, with Netanyahu’s far-right allies, upon which his coalition depends, highly unlikely to accept such measures. Some commentators have floated the possibility of the premier seeking to ditch his hardline partners if a deal were to be on the table, in favor of a more centrist coalition with current opposition parties — though this also seems a remote possibility given the intense animosity between the sides.

Still, Netanyahu has insisted that the Palestinian issue will not be a hindrance.

“Do I think it’s feasible to have that, and do I think that political questions will block it? I doubt it,” Netanyahu told Bloomberg. “If there’s political will, there will be a political way to achieve normalization and a formal peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“I think there’s enough room to discuss possibilities,” he added.

(L) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP); (C) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90); (L) US President Joe Biden on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC (Michael A. McCoy / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

On Friday Axios reported that US officials stressed to Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer during a recent visit that Israel will have to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians to secure a normalization agreement.

Citing current and former US officials, the report said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Dermer that Israel is “misreading the situation” if it does not believe significant gestures to the Palestinians are necessary to assuage the Saudis, who he said will need to demonstrate tangible results to other Arab and Muslim countries if they are to make a deal with Israel.

The report further said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Dermer that US President Joe Briden wants extensive support for a Saudi agreement from congressional Democrats, and Israeli gestures toward the Palestinians could help ensure this.

Dermer offered little in terms of gestures for the Palestinians during the meetings, saying Israel’s concession is its agreement to Saudi Arabia’s development of a civilian nuclear program, according to the report.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) hosts Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, August 17, 2023. (Secretary of State Blinken, via Twitter)

Riyadh’s demand for a green light from Washington to develop a nuclear program is part of the broader US-Saudi talks that could see Israel and Saudi Arabia normalize diplomatic ties. 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 bargain, the US is looking for Riyadh to significantly roll back its economic and military ties with China and Russia and bolster the truce that ended the civil war in Yemen.

The New York Times reported in July that with Saudi leadership expressing an increased willingness to reach a deal on normalization with Israel, the US has launched a “full-bore effort” on the matter.

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