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Saudi offers aid to coax Palestine into backing Israel normalization: Report

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. (Photo by WAFA)

Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered to resume financial aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA) in a bid to gain Ramallah’s support for its efforts to normalize relations with Israel.

Citing unnamed Saudi officials, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first made the proposal in April, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the kingdom.

During his meeting with Abbas, bin Salman said the Saudi funding would be renewed if the Palestinian president managed to re-assert control over areas of the occupied West Bank that have come under the sway of Palestinian resistance fighters, the report said.

The Saudi crown prince also claimed that any deal with Israel would not harm efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state.

According to the report, Saudi Arabia hopes that Abbas’s approval for a normalization agreement with the Tel Aviv regime would silence criticisms directed at Riyadh over abandoning the Palestinian cause.

Saudi Arabia has injected more than $5 billion into the PA since 1948. However, it began cutting funding in 2016, with aid dropping from $174 million a year in 2019 to zero in 2021.

The PA is now debating whether to back Saudi Arabia’s offer and is sending a senior delegation to the kingdom next week for talks on advancing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Saudi Arabia has held out the offer to normalize ties with Israel since 2002 under the Arab peace plan which calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East al-Quds as its capital.

Riyadh has not publicly departed from that position, but some analysts believe that Riyadh would settle for much less.

According to The Wall Street Journal report, Saudi leaders told the administration of US President Joe Biden that they expect the PA could back their normalization bid even if an independent Palestinian state is not created, but that either way, the PA “won’t have any power to veto a Saudi-Israel deal.”

Abdullah Baabood, a nonresident scholar at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, said previously that it would be “extremely risky” for Saudi Arabia to normalize ties now when Israel is led by its most far-right and ultra-Zionist cabinet in history.

“It would undermine [the Saudis] reputation…as it tries to act as a leader of the Arab world,” he told the Middle East Eye news portal.

Recently, reports emerged of an agreement on the general outline of an Israeli-Saudi normalization pact.

Under the deal, Riyadh would secure American backing for a civilian nuclear program, as well as access to advanced weapons. In exchange, the kingdom would take major steps to distance itself from China and Israel would allow an independent Palestinian state.

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