August 30, 2023 | Flash Brief

Saudi Arabia Moves to Assert Influence in West Bank as Normalization with Israel Appears Possible

August 30, 2023 | Flash Brief

Saudi Arabia Moves to Assert Influence in West Bank as Normalization with Israel Appears Possible

Latest Developments

Saudi Arabia is offering to resume financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank in exchange for security guarantees, The Wall Street Journal reported on August 29. The move is apparently an effort to gain Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ support for a U.S.-brokered normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, thereby avoiding blowback from the Muslim world, where many still insist on treating the Jewish state as a pariah. 

On August 9, the Journal reported that American and Saudi officials had developed a framework for a potential normalization deal. Biden administration officials promptly denied reports of any meaningful progress but the kingdom’s demonstrations of goodwill towards Israel continue to grow along with its efforts to appease the Palestinians. In mid-August, for example, Riyadh appointed its first-ever ambassador to the Palestinians, who will be based in Jordan.

Expert Analysis

“Once considered a move motivated by anti-Israel sentiments, the funding of the Palestinian Authority is now a measure employed by the Saudis to provide cover for what could come next: normalization with Israel. This is a fascinating turn as the region continues to evolve toward regional integration.” — Jonathan Schanzer, FDD Senior Vice President for Research

“Saudi Arabia has been the biggest sponsor and supporter of the Palestinians — financially, politically, and diplomatically — since the London Conference in 1939. Palestinians have taken Saudi generosity for granted, forcing Riyadh to cut it. The kingdom will now likely reinstate it if the Palestinians show some gratitude and respect sovereign Saudi decisions.” — Hussain Abdul-Hussain, FDD Research Fellow

Tense Saudi-Israeli Relationship

Saudi Arabia has supported the Palestinians financially since before the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. Riyadh began cutting its funding to the PA in 2016, accusing Palestinian leaders of incompetence and corruption. Until early 2016, Saudi Arabia provided the PA with an estimated $20 million a month, or about $240 million per year. Aid then fell to $174 million in 2019 before plunging to zero in 2021.  

The Journal cited current Saudi and former Palestinian officials who said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first floated the prospect of rebooting Saudi financial support to the PA during Abbas’ visit to Riyadh in April. In return, bin Salman requested that Abbas crack down on violence and the proliferation of Iran-backed militant groups in the West Bank.  

Outlines of a Deal

Bin Salman outlined a Saudi proposal for an agreement in March. The request included a commitment from Israel to support creating a Palestinian state and foreign assistance for the Saudi civilian nuclear program — including uranium enrichment capabilities on Saudi soil — fewer restrictions on U.S. arms sales to the kingdom, and security guarantees from the United States.

Saudi-Israeli peace is no pipe dream,” by Haisam Hassanein

U.S. Denies Significant Progress in Saudi-Israel Normalization,” FDD Flash Brief

Can Saudi normalization with Israel hurt Palestinians?” by Hussain Abdul-Hussain


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