Palestinian leader Abbas meets Saudi crown prince in Jeddah

Meeting focuses on ways to strengthen ties, while prince reaffirms commitment to establishing independent Palestinian state; Hamas delegation also in kingdom

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)
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)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met Wednesday with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the kingdom’s port city of Jeddah.

Abbas briefed Prince Mohammed on Palestinian political developments and the situation in the West Bank, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian Authority news service. The two also discussed strengthening Saudi-Palestinian ties.

Abbas praised Saudi Arabia for its support of the Palestinian cause in line with the  Arab Peace Initiative, which dates back to 2002 and envisions ending the conflict with Israel by establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Prince Mohammed gave his support for the Palestinians’ cause and their own state, according to the readout.

Also at the meeting was Fatah Party Secretary General Hussein Al-Sheikh and PA intelligence service head Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj. Saudi representatives included the kingdom’s Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and Chief of Intelligence Khaled Humaidan Musaed Al-Aiban.

The meeting came as a delegation of top officials from the Hamas terror group were also in the country, reportedly to meet with local officials in an effort to patch up ties with Riyadh.

The visit was not officially confirmed by either Hamas or the Saudis. However, a video posted to social media Tuesday showed Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal wearing white terrycloth garments symbolic of the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage as they circled Islam’s holiest site in Mecca. The Muslim world is currently marking the final week of the Ramadan holy month.

The trip by a senior delegation representing Hamas represents a major development as Israel’s hopes of forging official ties with Riyadh appear to dwindle further.

Last week, US media reported that Saudi Arabia’s interest in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel had cooled in recent months amid ongoing violence in the West Bank and clashes at the flashpoint Temple Mount site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prioritized including the kingdom in the 2020 Abraham Accords upon his return to office in December, but Riyadh and other Muslim nations have become reluctant to openly advance a deal due to spiking Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Israeli and Gulf officials told The Wall Street Journal.

Notably, a plan brokered by Washington to schedule direct flights from Tel Aviv to Mecca, allowing Israel’s Muslim citizens to more easily take part in the sacred Hajj pilgrimage, is unlikely to be finalized, Israeli officials told the paper.

The US-brokered Abraham Accords saw the kingdom’s neighbors the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.

In 2022, hopes for deepening ties with Riyadh peaked when the kingdom allowed Israeli civilian flights to pass over its airspace.

Since the establishment of Netanyahu’s hardline right-wing government, the Saudis have issued several condemnations against Israel over West Bank settlement expansion and violent confrontations between Israeli troops and Palestinians.

Shortly before being sworn in, Netanyahu said a normalization deal with the Saudis could serve as a “quantum leap” for long-moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.

The two countries were also interested in aligning against their common regional rival Iran. However, the recent rapprochement deal between Riyadh and Tehran is further complicating efforts.

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