New Saudi envoy to Palestine cancels visit to Al-Aqsa amid normalisation criticism
Nayef al-Sudairi reportedly intended to visit the holy site and pray there to mark the Muslim occasion of Mawlid – Prophet Muhammad’s birthday - according to Palestinian sources cited by the Israeli news site Haaretz.
However, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs neither confirmed nor denied the report.
Reports then emerged that some Palestinians objected to a potential visit by the envoy, saying that it would validate Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and be a signal that normalisation of Saudi-Israel relations was proceeding.
Some Palestinian sources, according to Haaretz, said that al-Sudairi was "aware" of potential criticism surrounding a visit to Al-Aqsa.
Visits by Arab delegates to Al-Aqsa are typically coordinated by Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf, Islamic Affairs, and Holy Places and require an Israeli permit.
Sudairi, who was appointed in August, said that he would visit the holy site during future trips to the Palestinian territories.
The ambassador travelled to Ramallah as part of a Saudi delegation earlier this week – for the first time in 30 years.
Sudairi’s visit came as Riyadh and Israel are in US-brokered negotiations to normalise ties, with statements from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hinting that normalisation is on the horizon.
Sudairi, also the Gulf kingdom’s envoy to Jordan, met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
Palestinian officials said that al-Sudairi’s visit was part of a Saudi attempt to show commitment to the Palestinian cause despite potential normalisation with Israel.
Abbas, however, said that Palestinians have strong reservations about potential diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has so far stuck to its official line that normalisation with Israel will not happen unless an independent Palestinian state is established.
Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE established official ties with Israel in 2020 in a controversial deal known as the Abraham Accords.
Palestinians slammed the deals as a betrayal of their cause, pointing out that it rewards Israel as it continues to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.