The three-way summit and the fear of further normalization

The Palestinians fear further normalization between Israel and neighboring Arab states, and that puts them under a lot of pressure.

By Aviel Schneider | | Topics: palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Abraham Accords
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. EPA-EFE/KHALED ELFIQI
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. EPA-EFE/KHALED ELFIQI

Persistent rumors of imminent normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia are pushing the Palestinian issue further into the political background. The Palestinian leadership had accused the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan of violating the terms of the Arab peace initiative by signing separate normalization deals with Israel. Against this background, a tripartite summit between Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority began yesterday in the Egyptian city of El Alamein.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah yesterday reiterated their full support for the Palestinians and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They called on Israel to “fulfill its obligations under international law and honor all agreements signed with the Palestinians.” In doing so, they reaffirmed their support for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

All three called on Israel to “cease military attacks on Palestinian towns in the West Bank that are hindering the Palestinian Authority government and security forces from carrying out their duties.” Israel should also release Palestinian tax revenue confiscated as a result of payments by the Palestinian Authority to imprisoned terrorists and to the families of martyrs killed in attacks on Israelis. They warned that Israel’s actions undermine the two-state solution and fuel violence and chaos. They accused Israel of violating the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem and its holy sites. The usual criticism of Israel that gets nowhere.

The summit took place in the shadow of a possible normalization agreement between Jerusalem and Riyadh. While Sisi, Abdullah and Abbas made no direct reference to US efforts to broker an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, all three stressed their commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, including complete Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke this peace formula when he signed the so-called Abraham Accords with the Arab governments three years ago.

The Palestinians were very angry about this, because their peace formula had burst with it. Today, Arab governments are ready to normalize with Israel without waiting for an Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state. Palestinians feel betrayed by their Arab brothers and sisters, which is why they convened the summit in Egypt to remind Arab nations that Israel must first withdraw from the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria before any normalization with Israel can begin. But the Arab governments see things differently.

A few days ago, Saudi Arabia appointed its ambassador to Jordan, Nayef al-Sudairi, as ambassador to the Palestinian Authority and consul-general in Jerusalem. In Ramallah, it is believed that the move has to do with American efforts to reach an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. They see the envoy’s appointment as part of a Saudi attempt to placate the Palestinians ahead of a normalization deal with Israel.

Normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel is a dramatic development, as the Saudi kingdom symbolizes the Sunni current in Islam, which is the vast majority. The tripartite summit reaffirmed the importance of Hashemite guardianship over the holy sites in Jerusalem. Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab countries recognize Jordan’s role in administering the holy sites in Jerusalem. In recent years, however, Saudi sources have reported that Riyadh, too, is seeking a role in managing Jerusalem’s Islamic sites, which would end Jordan’s exclusive and historic status in the city. This is exactly what the Hashemite king of Jordan, King Abdullah, fears.

See: Saudi Journalist Visits Israel, Implies Riyadh Wants Role in Jerusalem Holy Sites

In Jerusalem, the government has recognized in recent years that Israel must no longer miss out on a possible normalization with the Arab governments because of the Palestinians, who make up one percent of the Arab nations. Why can’t Israel sign deals and agreements with Arab nations representing 99 percent just because the Palestinians insist on an Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state first? What was intended 20 years ago in an Arab peace initiative has changed today. Israel has managed to normalize relations with Arab countries without retreat and without a Palestinian state. And it’s wishful thinking that they can now, with the help of Egypt and Jordan, halt the momentum.

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