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Saudi King: We will not abandon Palestine

King of Saudi Arabia Salman Bin Abdulaziz [SPA]
King of Saudi Arabia Salman Bin Abdulaziz [SPA]

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has vowed to support Palestinian demands in the US-led peace deal dubbed the “deal of the century”.

King Salman Bin Abdulaziz said yesterday that Saudi Arabia would not endorse any peace deal which fails to tackle the status of Jerusalem or the right of return. The statement is believed to be directed at Saudi Arabia’s Arab allies and neighbours in a bid to reassure them of the country’s support for the Palestinian position. The move comes in light of speculation that the Kingdom would be a key broker in the US-led peace deal and its stance towards Israel was easing under the efforts of the Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman.

A senior Arab diplomat in Riyadh was quoted by Reuters as saying “in Saudi Arabia, the king is the one who decides on this issue now, not the crown prince.”

The US mistake was they thought one country could pressure the rest to give in, but it’s not about pressure. No Arab leader can concede on Jerusalem or Palestine.

King Salman has also reportedly given private assurances to Palestinian Authority (PA) President, Mahmoud Abbas, promising that “we will not abandon you.” He added: “We accept what you accept and we reject what you reject,” the Palestinian Ambassador to Riyadh, Basem Al-Agha, told Reuters.

Al-Agha added that King Salman’s previous decision to name the 2018 Arab League conference, which was held in April, “The Jerusalem Summit” and donate $200 million in aid to the Palestinians were messages that “Jerusalem and refugees were back on the table.” Last week, Saudi Arabia offered a further $80 million to the PA, understood to reflect “the solid ties between the two governments and the close relationship between the two countries’ leaders.”

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Speculation as to a change in Saudi Arabia’s position on Palestine were stoked in April when Bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, told a meeting of US-based Jewish groups that “it is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining”. This was not the first time Bin Salman has voiced his criticism of Palestine, saying in November 2017 that Abbas should back the US peace deal or resign.

Details of the pending peace deal, dubbed the “deal of the century”, have yet to be revealed. Some speculative details of its content include infrastructure projects in the Egyptian Sinai to aid the besieged Gaza Strip, including the building of a port, and a proposal for Abu Dis, a village in the Jerusalem governorate, to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The deal is expected to be overwhelmingly favoured towards the Israeli position, with a poll earlier in July revealing that 44 per cent of Israelis believe the deal will be biased in favour of Israel. The Palestinian leadership has sought alternatives, with a senior advisor on foreign affairs to Abbas, Nabil Shaath, welcoming a Chinese-led peace initiative. The Chinese initiative seeks a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as common security and cooperation with Israel.

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In June, US envoy to the Middle East, Jared Kushner, met with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss the “deal of the century”. A White House statement stressed that the US administration, under President Donald Trump, is committed “to advance peace”. Earlier this month it was revealed that Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, still lacks top-level security clearance. Given the sensitivity of information crucial to his role as Middle East envoy, concerns have been raised about his capacity to perform his role.

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