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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Saudi says no Israel ties without independent Palestinian state

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia has told Washington it will not establish ties with Israel until an independent Palestinian state “is recognized,” the Gulf kingdom’s foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

“The Kingdom has communicated its firm position to the US administration that there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” read the statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Israeli “aggression” in Gaza must also stop and all Israeli forces must withdraw from the besieged territory, the statement said.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, has never recognized Israel and did not join the 2020 US-brokered Abraham Accords that saw its Gulf neighbors Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Morocco, establish formal ties with Israel.

Wednesday’s statement came in response to comments by White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who told reporters on Tuesday that talks on Saudi-Israeli normalisation were “ongoing” and that Washington had “received positive feedback from both sides that they’re willing to continue to have those discussions.”

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On a crisis tour of the region, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Saudi Arabia this week before stops in Egypt, Qatar and then Israel, where he is pressing for a truce deal in the Israel-Hamas war.

On Tuesday, Blinken told reporters in Doha that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had “reiterated Saudi Arabia’s strong interest in pursuing” normalization during their meeting in Riyadh.

“But he also made clear what he had said to me before, which is that in order to do that, two things will be required — an end to the conflict in Gaza, and a clear, credible time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Blinken said.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has pushed hard for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel.

Before the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October, Riyadh laid out conditions including security guarantees from Washington and help developing a civilian nuclear program.

Any momentum stalled soon after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

One week later, a source familiar with the normalization talks told AFP that Saudi Arabia had paused the process.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel has launched air strikes and a land offensive that have killed at least 27,585 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud, told the World Economic Forum last month that normalization would be impossible without an “irrevocable” pathway towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

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