JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Sunday ruled out any eventual physical mission in Jerusalem for the first Saudi envoy to the Palestinians, though they described his appointment as an endorsement of their goal of a state that would include part of the city. its capital.
The Saudi ambassador to Jordan, Nayef Al-Sudairy, expanded his credentials on Saturday to include a non-resident envoy to the Palestinians. A post on his embassy’s social media said that “consul general in Jerusalem” was now among al-Sudairi’s duties.
The move came after Washington said there had been some progress in its efforts to broker formal relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia – which had previously ruled out such an agreement until the goals of Palestinian statehood were addressed.
In a sign of their feeling marginalized by the intense indirect talks, the Palestinians hoped earlier this month that Riyadh would listen to their concerns and coordinate with them.
They sounded more optimistic after Sudairi’s appointment.
The Palestinian ambassador to Riyadh, Bassam al-Agha, said: “What does it mean to say (that he is) (a general consul in Jerusalem)? This means the continuation of the Saudi positions.”
In an interview with Voice of Palestine radio, Al-Agha interpreted the appointment as a “rejection” of the US recognition in 2017 of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The Palestinians want a state in lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, with East Jerusalem as its capital. US-sponsored negotiations with Israel to achieve this stalled more than a decade ago.
Among the obstacles are Israeli settlement in the occupied territories and the dispute between the Western-backed Palestinian authorities and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), who refuse to coexist with Israel.
The other sticking point is Jerusalem, which Israel considers its indivisible capital — a status not widely recognized abroad. Israeli authorities prevent Palestinian diplomacy in the city.
Al-Sudairi presented his credentials to the Palestinian mission in Amman, indicating that the Jordanian capital would remain his base.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM, “(Al-Sudairi) may be an envoy who will meet with representatives of the Palestinian Authority.”
“Will there be an official sitting physically in Jerusalem? This we will not allow.”
Israel’s far-right government has played down any possibility of giving significant ground to the Palestinians as part of a potential normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.
“Behind this development (Al-Sudairi’s appointment) is that against the backdrop of progress in US talks with Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Saudis want to deliver a message to the Palestinians that they have not forgotten them,” Cohen said. .
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Maghrabi. Writing by Dan Williams Editing by Bernadette Baume and Frances Kerry
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