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Israel bars Saudi Arabia from opening physical mission in Jerusalem

Saudi Arabia's new 'consul-general in Jerusalem' position is seen as an endorsement of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital
The Palestinians want a state in territories captured by Israel in a 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as their capital (AFP/File photo)

Israel ruled out on Sunday any eventual physical mission in Jerusalem for the first Saudi envoy to the Palestinians, even as they cast his appointment as endorsement of their goal of a state that would include part of the city as its capital.

Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Nayef al-Sudairi on Saturday expanded his credentials to include non-resident envoy to the Palestinians. A social media post by his embassy said "consul-general in Jerusalem" was also now among al-Sudairi's duties.

But Israel has made it clear that there will be no physical mission for the Saudis in occupied East Jerusalem. 

"This (al-Sudairi) could be a delegate who will meet with representatives in the Palestinian Authority," Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.

"Will there be an official physically sitting in Jerusalem? This we will not allow."

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Saudi Arabia's move came after Washington said there had been some progress in its efforts to mediate a forging of formal relations between Israel and the kingdom - which had previously ruled out such a pact until Palestinian statehood goals are addressed.

"The Saudis want to relay a message to the Palestinians that they have not forgotten them," Cohen said.

Signalling that they felt sidelined by the stepped-up indirect talks, the Palestinians voiced hope earlier this month that Riyadh would hear their concerns and coordinate with them.

They sounded more upbeat after al-Sudairi's appointment.

East Jerusalem, Palestine?

"What does it mean to also say (he is) 'consul-general in Jerusalem'? It means a continuation of the positions of Saudi Arabia," Palestinian Ambassador to Riyadh Bassam al-Agha said.

Interviewed on Voice of Palestine radio, al-Agha further interpreted the appointment as a "rejection" of the US recognition in 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

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The Palestinians want a state in territories captured by Israel in a 1967 war, with East Jerusalem as their capital. US-sponsored negotiations with Israel on achieving that stalled more than a decade ago.

Among the hurdles have been Israeli settlement of occupied land and feuding between Western-backed Palestinian authority in the occupied West Bank and the Hamas movement governing in Gaza.

Another sticking point is Jerusalem, which Israel deems its indivisible capital - a status not widely recognised abroad. Israeli authorities bar Palestinian diplomacy in the city.

Al-Sudairi presented his credentials to the Palestinian mission in Amman, indicating the Jordanian capital would remain his base.

Israel's hard-right government has played down any prospect of it giving significant ground to the Palestinians as part of the potential normalisation deal with Saudi Arabia.

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