During this week’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas issued a desperate call for an international peace conference to create a Palestinian state and provide protection for Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1967.
Mr Abbas said a conference could be the “last opportunity to salvage the two-state solution” and urged the UN to urgently address escalating violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as the threat of war in Gaza.
At least 222 Palestinians have been killed in 2023, while 31 people have been killed in Israel, making it the deadliest year since 2005.
Mr Abbas sought to inject urgency into assembly deliberations by arguing that Israel is changing the historical, geographic, and demographic situation with the aim of “perpetuating the occupation and entrenching apartheid”.
He pointed out that Israel’s 1949 admission to UN membership was conditional on implementation of UN resolutions on the division of Palestine between Palestinians (45 per cent) and Israelis (55 per cent), return of Palestinian refugees from neighbouring countries and the internationalisation of Jerusalem.
Speaking as Palestinians observe the 75th anniversary of Israel’s conquest of 78 per cent of Palestine, Abbas said there can be no regional peace until Palestinians gain their rights. These words were directed at Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman who said on Wednesday that normalisation between the kingdom and Israel was “every day getting closer”.
The prince has called for the easing of the lives of Palestinians, but has explained what this means. Saudi Arabia has also promised to restore financial aid, cut in 2020, to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA).
US news website Axios reported that the PA has made three demands as its price for Saudi-Israeli normalisation: the handing over to PA administration of the 60 per cent of the West Bank under full Israeli control while Israel retains security; the reopening of the US consulate in East Jerusalem; and resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations which collapsed in 2014.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition has rejected the first demand as Israel’s 450,000 settlers reside in this area while the other two have been dismissed.
The Saudis could find it difficult to normalise with Israel unless meaningful concessions to the Palestinians are delivered. The Washington-based Arab Centre’s Arab Opinion Index showed that 84 per cent of Arabs rejected recognition of Israel while 8 per cent accepted it.
The 2023 Dubai based ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey reported that 98 per cent of Saudi youths strongly oppose normalisation with Israel. This is significant as young people comprise the crown prince’s popular base due to reforms which grant them social and cultural freedoms.