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Report: Saudis repeatedly rejected requests by PA’s Abbas to visit before Biden

Riyadh only granted Palestinian leader a short phone call with king, amid reports Saudi Arabia would take steps toward normalization with Israel long opposed by Ramallah

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 27, 2022, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks as he meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 27, 2022, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Saudi Arabia rejected repeated requests from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the kingdom before US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region, according to a Thursday report.

A few days ago, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman granted Abbas a short phone call, but no visit, an unsourced Channel 12 report said.

Biden is visiting Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia this week. He is expected to announce an agreement while in Saudi Arabia that will see Riyadh take steps toward normalization with Israel. The Palestinians have long appealed to Arab states to shun Israel until there is substantial progress toward a Palestinian state.

Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday and has held warm meetings with Israel’s leadership and displayed steadfast support for the Jewish state during the trip.

On Friday, Biden heads to the West Bank to meet with Abbas, where he will likely receive a less cordial welcome. He angered the Palestinian leadership on Wednesday by saying at his official welcome ceremony in Israel that a two-state solution was not feasible “in the near term.”

The Palestinians are also irked that the US did not hold Israel more directly responsible for the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The US said Israeli troops were likely responsible, but had not deliberately targeted the reporter.

Biden has pushed Israeli leadership to rein in settlement construction, and Israel made a series of concessions to the Palestinians immediately before Biden’s visit.

Biden is not expected to make any significant announcements regarding Israeli-Palestinian agreements during the trip. Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke in favor of a two-state solution alongside Biden on Thursday, but as a caretaker prime minister, he has little power to enact anything significant.

After the West Bank, Biden will travel directly to Saudi Arabia from Israel, marking the first time a US president flies directly from the Jewish state to Jeddah.

The US has said that better integrating Israel into the region is a focus of the trip, but has played down hopes for any major breakthroughs in the Israeli-Saudi relationship.

Saudi special forces troops salute in front of a screen displaying images Saudi King Salman, right, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a military parade in preparation for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, July 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Despite those pronouncements, a Middle East diplomat said Thursday that Biden has clinched an agreement that will see Saudi Arabia begin down the path to normalization with Israel.

The measures are expected to include Saudi Arabia opening its airspace to Israeli flights to the Far East and rolling out direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia for Muslim pilgrims.

Open ties with Saudi Arabia would be a major triumph for the Jewish state and reshape regional politics. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia and other moderate Sunni states have shared enmity with Iran, and Jerusalem has long sought ties with its Arab neighbors.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, but covert ties have warmed in recent years as Riyadh and its de facto ruler, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have reportedly come to see Israel as a strategic partner in the battle against Iranian influence in the region.

Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and later Morocco, in the US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, and already had ties with Jordan and Egypt. Saudi Arabia is believed to have given Bahrain, which is under Riyadh’s wing, approval for normalizing with Israel.

While in Saudi Arabia, Biden will participate in a summit of regional Arab leaders known as the GCC+3 before returning to the US on Sunday.

Channel 12 said Thursday that Iran is stepping up pressure on Iraq’s PM Mustapha Kadami, the ninth participant at the summit, not to attend. Iran has significant influence over its neighbor Iraq, including by backing militias in the country.

Both Biden and Israeli leaders have vowed to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and signed a strategic declaration to that end during the president’s trip.

After the signing, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi warned the US that any “mistake” Washington and its allies might make in the region would be met with “a harsh and regrettable response.”

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