When a gaggle of three Arab states cast landmark diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, the Palestinian management noticed the method as a betrayal: The offers upended a decades-old Arab follow of ostracizing Israel till the creation of Palestinian state.
Three years on, amid efforts by the US to dealer an analogous pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Palestinian leaders are taking a unique tack: engagement.
On Tuesday, three senior Palestinian envoys are set to reach in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, for discussions about what calls for Saudi Arabia may make on the Palestinians’ behalf in change for forming ties with Israel.
That strategy reverses the dynamic in 2020, when Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates cast relations with Israel with out consulting the Palestinians — not to mention successful them lasting concessions. Again then, the Palestinians solely condemned the method.
Whereas there stays little Palestinian enthusiasm for the normalization course of, the shift displays how the Palestinian management now feels it has extra to realize by way of involvement within the negotiations, not less than at this early stage.
Since coming into workplace in December, Israel’s far-right authorities has entrenched management over the occupied West Financial institution, asserting big expansions of Israeli settlements, making the prospect of a Palestinian state ever being created much more distant. Engagement with Saudi Arabia affords the Palestinians an opportunity to maintain regional help for his or her trigger when momentum for it’s dwindling.
“Mainly, they’ve internalized their previous mistake,” mentioned Ibrahim Dalalsha, an analyst based mostly in Ramallah within the West Financial institution. In 2020, “they actually felt that their response price them,” Mr. Dalalsha mentioned. Now, they’ve “rethought the entire course of.”
“There isn’t a different different for the Palestinians,” he added.
For his or her half, the Saudis are additionally searching for extra vital concessions than these supplied in 2020 to their neighbors the Emiratis.
As a quid professional quo for normalization, Riyadh desires larger army cooperation with the US, in addition to U.S. help for a civil nuclear program.
Nevertheless it additionally desires Israel to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, and is contemplating what to ask for, in accordance with diplomats briefed on the negotiations.
In 2020, the Emirati management secured solely a symbolic gesture: the non permanent postponement of plans by Israel to annex the West Financial institution. Analysts suppose the Saudis, aware of their highly effective function within the Center East, wish to win one thing extra vital for the Palestinians.
“Saudi Arabia sees itself because the main state on the Islamic degree,” mentioned Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian minister and a Ramallah-based analyst. “So that they attempt to behave as such.”
The Palestinian and Saudi leaderships have been speaking since April about what the Palestinians would possibly achieve from the talks. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the semiautonomous Palestinian administration within the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution, visited Jeddah that month, and contacts have been maintained since. In a present of excellent will final month, the Saudis appointed their first envoy to the Palestinians, Naif al-Sudairi.
Publicly, Mr. Abbas’s workplace says that it desires Saudi Arabia to accept nothing lower than a Palestinian state within the West Financial institution, Gaza and East Jerusalem, all territories captured by Israel through the 1967 Arab-Israeli battle.
“There is just one demand: implementing the Arab Peace Initiative,” Majdi Khaldi, one of many three senior Palestinian officers touring to Riyadh, mentioned in a telephone interview, referring to a Saudi-sponsored plan revealed in 2002 that referred to as for the institution of such a state.
Mr. Khaldi, a overseas coverage adviser to Mr. Abbas, denied his authorities had made any smaller-scale proposals.
However in non-public, Palestinian officers have mentioned pushing for concessions which are extra modest, although primarily nonetheless unfeasible, in accordance with six diplomats briefed on the discussions, who requested for anonymity as a way to communicate extra freely, and an inventory of Palestinian speaking factors reviewed by The Instances.
These calls for embrace the restoration of Saudi monetary help for the Palestinians, which was phased out lately, after a number one Saudi official expressed frustration at perceived Palestinian ingratitude.
The Palestinian calls for additionally embrace U.S. help for full Palestinian membership of the United Nations (the Palestinians have solely observer status), and the switch of extra land to Palestinian administrative management within the West Financial institution. Because the Nineteen Nineties, Mr. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has exerted its restricted autonomy in solely 39 p.c of the territory; Israel immediately controls the remaining 61 p.c.
The restoration of Saudi monetary help might be a possible end result of the Palestinian engagement, however the different calls for seem overly formidable.
The Israeli authorities, dominated by ministers who favor annexing the whole West Financial institution, is unlikely to cede territory.
And even when the Biden administration was to help Palestinian membership of the United Nations, then that might probably set off a freeze on U.S. funding for the physique, which receives roughly a fifth of its funds from Washington. Congress handed legislation within the Nineteen Nineties that forces the US to chop funding to any U.N. physique that provides membership to the Palestinians.
But when the Palestinian management makes smaller calls for, that might threat drawing additional criticism from Palestinians who really feel Mr. Abbas mustn’t have engaged within the course of in any respect.
“Any negotiations a few value for normalization are a strategic error,” mentioned Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian opposition politician based mostly in Ramallah. “They’re going to get nothing.” He added: “Any new normalization will solely consolidate a system of apartheid and occupation.”
Some main worldwide, Israeli and Palestinian rights teams have accused Israel of practising the crime of apartheid by way of its therapy of Palestinians, a cost that Israel denies.
However others really feel Mr. Abbas hardly has a selection.
Boycotting the Saudi normalization course of would threat alienating each the U.S. and Saudi governments, two highly effective companions that Mr. Abbas can in poor health afford to disregard, Mr. Dalalsha mentioned.
“In the event you ask the Palestinians, ‘Do you actually anticipate something to occur?’ they’d say: ‘No, and we want it gained’t occur,’” Mr. Dalalsha mentioned.
However, he added, “They’re eager to not be blamed for its failure.”