Saudis co-hosting UN event aimed at revamping Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Next week’s General Assembly confab organized with Arab League, EU is latest Riyadh effort to engage in Palestinian issue amid normalization talks; Israeli, PA missions not invited

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Saudi King Salman, right, receives Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after he arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 20, 2017. (Al-Ekhbariya via AP)
Saudi King Salman, right, receives Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after he arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 20, 2017. (Al-Ekhbariya via AP)

Saudi Arabia will be co-hosting an event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week focused on revamping the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, three UN diplomats told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

The event, titled “Peace Day Effort for Middle East Peace,” will take place on Monday and is being put on by Saudi Arabia along with the Arab League and the European Union in cooperation with Egypt and Jordan, one of the diplomats said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will be the keynote speaker.

Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian missions were invited to the event, the UN diplomat said, explaining that it is focused on congregating important global stakeholders on the issue in order to “reinvigorate” the peace process.

The current hardline Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to entertain the notion of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, instead moving to radically expand Israel’s footprint in the West Bank. The PA supports a two-state solution, but its leadership is marred by charges of corruption and President Mahmoud Abbas was roundly criticized last week for a speech employing a range of antisemitic tropes. Both Netanyahu and Abbas will be at the UN next week.

The event is the latest effort by Saudi Arabia to engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it negotiates with US President Joe Biden’s administration about a potential normalization agreement with Israel.

Last week, Riyadh hosted a Palestinian Authority delegation to discuss how to leverage a normalization deal to advance the Palestinian cause.

Saudi Arabia did host a ministerial meeting at the UN General Assembly sidelines last year on the issue, but that event was to mark the 20th anniversary of the proposal of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Diplomats gather at a meeting convened by Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative on September 20, 2022. (Saudi Foreign Ministry)

Riyadh has since gradually moved away from that proposal, which offered Israel normalization with the entire Arab League only after it reached a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Saudi leaders assured the visiting delegation last week that Riyadh “will not abandon” the Palestinian cause, even as it discusses normalizing ties with Israel, a US and an Arab official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The message was passed along in multiple meetings between the Palestinian Authority delegation and senior Saudi officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, the US and the Arab official said.

There will be follow-up conversations between US, Israeli, Palestinian and Saudi officials on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week, but Riyadh will likely need several months to study the issue further before raising specific demands in its talks with the Biden administration, according to the two officials.

“The appointment of an ambassador helps, but they really are new to this issue,” the US official said.

Last month, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Jordan began serving as Riyadh’s first-ever nonresident ambassador to the Palestinians as well as its first-ever nonresident consul general to Jerusalem.

The Arab official explained that Riyadh has made clear to Ramallah that it is prepared to depart from its long-held public stance against normalizing ties with Israel absent an actualized two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the PA has come to terms with this development and accordingly is asking for measures that fall short of immediate statehood.

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