Saudi-Israel normalisation: Biden advisor McGurk to meet Palestinians in Riyadh
Brett McGurk, the chief Middle East advisor to US President Joe Biden, is expected to head a delegation to Riyadh this week to meet senior Palestinian officials about a controversial normalisation deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as reported Sunday.
The US team is expected to arrive in the kingdom on Tuesday to strike a possible deal, Israeli media reported, with Washington also to speak to senior Saudi government representatives.
Why is the US involving the Palestinians?
The US believes that any normalisation deal between Israel and the Saudi Arabia that also benefits the Palestinians will be much more palatable to Democrats in Congress and international allies who are rhetorically supportive of the UN-mandated two-state solution.
This is especially true of potentially controversial aspects of the deal, such as a renewed US-Saudi security agreement and Riyadh's aspiration for a civil nuclear energy programme. Many see this as Biden trying to shore up his foreign policy credentials in a potential presidential run-off with Donald Trump, who brokered the infamous Abraham Accords.
This process saw Israel agree to normalise relations with four Arab states - the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan - but they completely bypassed Palestinian involvement.
What do Palestinians want and what could they get?
Saudi Arabia has previously stated that only the creation of a viable Palestinian state would pave the way for normalisation with Israel, although Israel is unlikely to accept this. Riyadh could pursue normalisation without such an agreement if other requests are satisfied.
Instead, the Biden administration hopes to reach "realistic understandings" with the Palestinians over the issue, according to a US source speaking to Axios. As a prelude to the upcoming meeting in Riyadh, US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs, Barbara Leaf, met with senior officials from the Palestinian Authority (PA), including President Mahmoud Abbas's Diplomatic Affairs Advisor Majdi Al-Khaldi.
During the allegedly "tense" meeting, the Palestinian delegation laid out their terms for supporting the deal - including US recognition of Palestine as a full member of the UN.
The Palestinians are also thought to be looking for more autonomy in the occupied West Bank and the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have apparently set out their terms to the Saudis for the final negotiations in any normalisation deal with Israel brokered by the US.
Is any of this likely to succeed?
This is certainly the clearest indication so far that the Biden administration is determined to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to concede anything to the Palestinians, fearing backlash from his far-right coalition partners, despite Ramallah reportedly watering down its demands. Israel views Riyadh as arguably the most powerful Arab state, and normalisation with it as lucrative, given the economic opportunities this would open.
The full terms of the Palestinian component to the deal will be given to the Saudis ahead of the visit by McGurk.