Saudi envoy seeks to reassure Palestinians
Saudi Arabia yesterday sent its first delegation in three decades to the occupied West Bank to reassure Palestinians that it will defend their cause even as it forges closer ties with Israel. In a sign of the thaw, Israel's Tourism Minister Haim Katz visited Riyadh on the same day, for the first such high-level public mission to the oil-rich kingdom. Washington has urged its Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalise diplomatic relations, following on from similar deals involving the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. The Palestinians have labelled those US-brokered agreements a betrayal of their plight and quest for statehood -- but Nayef al-Sudairi, who headed the Saudi delegation, sought to reassure them that Riyadh stands by their side. "The Palestinian matter is a fundamental pillar," Sudairi, the new ambassador to the Palestinians, said after meeting top Palestinian diplomat Riyad al-Maliki in Ramallah for talks and to present his credentials. "And it's certain that the Arab initiative, which was presented by the kingdom in 2002, is a cornerstone of any upcoming deal." The 2002 initiative proposed Arab relations with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights, and a just resolution for the Palestinians.