Israel prevents Saudi Arabia from establishing a consulate in occupied East Jerusalem

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman seeking to ease regional tensions and appoints the country’s first ambassador to Palestine

Israel has blocked Saudi Arabia from establishing a consulate in occupied East Jerusalem after the kingdom appointed its first ambassador to Palestine and proposed a Saudi diplomatic presence in the city.

Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said Saudi ambassador Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi could meet Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah but rejected the idea of an office in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1980.

Mr Cohen said: “We will not allow it.”

The Saudi decision to appoint Mr Sudairi amounted to a major policy change at a time when Riyadh has come under increasing pressure from Washington to normalise relations with Israel.


On receiving Mr Sudairi’s credentials at the Palestinian embassy in Jordan, which had formerly handled relations, Palestinian presidential adviser Majdi al-Khalidi called the shift “an important step” that will strengthen relations “that bind the two brotherly countries and the two peoples”.

The move is seen as a step towards the establishment of a Saudi diplomatic mission in Ramallah where more than 50 countries, including Ireland, Britain, Norway, Canada and South Africa, have long had representative offices or consulates.

The Saudi move to upgrade ties with Palestine followed Saudi reconciliation with Iran in March and normalisation of relations with Syria in May.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to ease regional tensions while pursuing his Vision 30 socio-economic reform programme to transform the kingdom.

His relaxation of conservative religious and cultural restraints has made him popular with young Saudis. However, the 15th Arab Youth Survey based on interviews with respondents aged between 18-24 and released on August 11th by Dubai-based ASDA’ A BCW revealed that 98 per cent of young Saudis strongly oppose normalisation with Israel.

Their attitude could make the crown prince wary of formalising ties with Israel. He cannot afford to alienate his young popular base by adopting another failed policy.

He has waged a losing war against Yemen, faced global ostracism by allegedly ordering the brutal murder of dissident journalist Kamal Khashoggi, and suffered international censure for cracking down on critics.

US media reports suggest that in exchange for normalisation with Israel, Saudi Arabia would demand major concessions for the Palestinians, which would be rejected by Israel’s hardline government.

In negotiations with the US, Riyadh would seek a formal Nato-type partnership defence treaty, advanced weapons, and aid for a civilian nuclear programme, although there is US Congressional opposition to all three demands.

US national security council spokesman John Kirby has dismissed last week’s Wall Street Journal report that terms of a Saudi-Israeli normalisation deal have been reached.

“There’s no agreed set of negotiations, there’s no agreed framework,” he said while confirming the Biden administration’s commitment to “moving forward” on this project.

If realised, it could give US president Joe Biden a foreign policy triumph ahead of next year’s election.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times