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New Saudi envoy meets Abbas, backs Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital

Newly appointed Saudi ambassador to the Palestinians Nayef al-Sudairi arrived in Ramallah Tuesday to present his credentials to the Palestinian Authority, saying that Riyadh was “working to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

His arrival, which marks the first time Saudi Arabia has sent a delegation to the West Bank in three decades, comes as the kingdom edges closer to a normalization deal with Israel.

Al-Sudairi presented his credentials to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and to Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who praised the depth of the deep-rooted historical and fraternal relations that bind the two people, according to the PA’s official Wafa news agency.

Al-Sudairi pointed to the statements of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salaman last week, “in which he clearly indicated his great interest in the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people,” Wafa said.

He also referred to statements made by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan last week at the UN General Assembly “regarding the importance of the Palestinian issue and its solution on the basis of the two-state solution leading to the establishment of the State of Palestine.”

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Al-Sudairi was later expected to meet PLO Secretary General Hussein Al-Sheikh and PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj.

Palestinian reports cited by the Haaretz daily said the Saudi delegation was expected to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, in what would be the first visit by an official Saudi delegation since Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. The reports noted that the Saudis aim to keep the visit low-profile to prevent Israeli interference in the specifics of the visit and to prevent Palestinian protests.

Al-Sudairi, who is also ambassador to Jordan, was recently appointed the first-ever non-resident Saudi ambassador to the Palestinian Authority and consul general to East Jerusalem.

The envoy said Saudi Arabia planned to open a consulate in East Jerusalem.

The delegation, which crossed overland from Jordan, was the first from Saudi Arabia to visit the West Bank since the 1993 Oslo Accords, which established the PA and had aimed to pave the way for an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The visit comes as Israel and Saudi Arabia move closer to inking a US-brokered deal that would see Riyadh giving up on its earlier demand for a Palestinian state before normalization.

However, the Saudis are still reportedly demanding significant Israeli concessions to the Palestinians as part of the deal, which would mark a game changer for the Middle East.

AFP contributed to this report.