Saudi King Tells U.S. That Peace Plan Must Include East Jerusalem as Palestinian Capital

'They told the administration, "what we could do for you before Jerusalem, we won’t be able to do now,"' one diplomatic source says, referring to the embassy move

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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Saudi King Salman presents President Donald Trump with The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal at the Royal Court Palace, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh.
Saudi King Salman presents President Donald Trump with The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal at the Royal Court Palace, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh.Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia and other key Arab countries have told the Trump administration they won’t be able to support its plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace if it doesn’t include a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

The Saudi position was first reported by Reuters on Sunday, and was later confirmed to Haaretz by two diplomats involved in conversations on the peace plan.

The Saudi position was expressed by King Salman during a number of recent communications with senior U.S. officials, as well as in conversations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders in the region. It contradicts many media reports over the past year about a Saudi willingness to adopt Trump’s peace plan even if it is unacceptable to the Palestinians.

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Last year, before the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, The New York Times reported the Saudi Arabia’s crown prince pressured Abbas to accept the Trump peace plan, even without a clear commitment to Palestinian statehood or a capital in East Jerusalem. Abbas refused, leading to a crisis between the Palestinian Authority and Riyadh.

But things have changed in recent months, partly because of the Jerusalem decision that included the moving of the U.S. Embassy to the city — events that were opposed and denounced by Saudi Arabia.

King Salman expressed support for the Palestinian position and reassured other Arab leaders that Saudi Arabia was still committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that includes a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders (with land swaps) with East Jerusalem as its capital. He also granted $80 million to the PA to help it overcome Trump’s decision to cut U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

As one diplomatic source who spoke with Haaretz described the change in the Saudi approach, “they told the administration, 'what we could do for you before Jerusalem, we won’t be able to do now.'”

Meanwhile, Jordan and Egypt have also encouraged the administration to only present its peace plan if that plan is fair to the Palestinian side. The Jordanians warned the administration that a plan tilted toward Israel could create unrest in Jordan, forcing Amman to strongly reject it.

“The Trump administration has invested too much in thinking that the Saudis can somehow deliver Middle East peace,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department and Pentagon official who worked on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the Obama administration. The Saudis, Goldenberg added, “don’t have that much leverage over Abbas,” and it was never realistic to expect them to force him into accepting the American peace plan.

Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. official who took part in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under a number of Democratic and Republican administrations, told Haaretz that the Saudi position should not come as a surprise.

“There is a big difference between the growing Saudi willingness to engage with Israel on areas of joint concern, such as the Iranian threat, and the notion that Saudi Arabia will pressure the Palestinian on issues like Jerusalem and settlements,” he said.

Miller said that while “it’s true that the Saudis and other Arab countries want to do things with Israel and get closer to Israel,” that doesn’t mean they will be able to support a peace initiative that “comes nowhere close to the traditional Arab positions on the conflict, let alone the Palestinian ones.”

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