December 19, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1364

Following Trump's Jerusalem Announcement, High Tension Between Saudi Arabia And Palestinians, Jordan

December 19, 2017 | By N. Mozes*
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1364

Following U.S. President Donald Trump's December 6, 2017 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, harsh criticism was heard in the Palestinian territories and in Jordan towards Saudi Arabia, which, according to various leaks, is promoting Trump's "deal of the century," namely a U.S.-brokered Palestinian-Israeli agreement that favors Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia was therefore accused of colluding with Trump's policy on Jerusalem. This criticism was expressed in the burning of the Saudi flag alongside the American one at a Gaza demonstration, and in slogans denouncing Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman at Jordanian protests against Trump's announcement.

This unprecedented criticism against Saudi Arabia from Palestinians and Jordanians joins other expressions of the current tension between Saudi Arabia on the one hand and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan on the other, and of the displeasure in Ramallah and Amman with Saudi Arabia's recent measures regarding the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Signs of this tension first appeared on social media, with heated debates between Saudi and Palestinian users over Hamas's rejection of the Arab League's November 19, 2017 announcement that called Hizbullah a terror organization. [1]

Further evidence of the strained relations between the PA and Saudi Arabia was a December 3, 2017 report in the New York Times which claimed that, during Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas's visit to Riyadh in November 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented him with Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East. According to the report, which cited "Palestinian, Arab and European officials who heard Abbas’s version of the conversation," the plan includes the establishment of a Palestinian state without territorial continuity and with limited sovereignty, whose capital is Abu Dis rather than East Jerusalem. Furthermore, there will be no right of return for Palestinian refugees, but most of the settlements will remain in place. According to the sources, Bin Salman informed 'Abbas that if he rejected the proposal, he would have to step aside in favor of someone willing to accept it. [2] The report itself stated that the information had been denied by both the U.S. and the Saudis. Palestinian officials denied it as well.[3] Regardless of its veracity, the report indicates Palestinian apprehension about a Saudi plan that is being formulated without Palestinian involvement.

Yet another indication of the PA's and Jordan's apprehension is their recent contacts with countries like Turkey and Qatar, which challenge Saudi Arabia's status as the leader of the Sunni world. On December 6, before Trump's announcement, Jordan's King 'Abdallah II met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. The King also attended the December 14 summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that Erdogan initiated. 'Abbas attended the summit as well, whereas the Saudis sent only a low-level representative. Several days later 'Abbas visited Qatar, which Saudi Arabia is boycotting.[4]

Saudi Arabia was enraged by the criticism towards it and the burning of its flag in Gaza and the calls against its leaders in Amman. Many articles published in the Saudi press lambasted the Palestinians for their ingratitude towards Saudi Arabia, which has supported them over the years, politically and financially. The articles claimed that the Palestinian leadership itself was responsible for the Palestinians' plight, for it had missed every opportunity to attain peace while allying itself with forces such as Iran, Syria and Qatar that had exploited its cause for their own ends. The Saudi ambassador to Jordan protested the attacks on his country and condemned Jordanian MPs who he said had taken part in them.

On the practical level, Saudi Arabia continues to meet its financial commitments to the PA. On December 14, Saudi Arabia's representative to the Arab League reported that his country had forwarded 30.8 million dollars – Saudi Arabia's share in the financial aid to the PA for the August-November period – to the Palestinian Finance Ministry. He stressed that Saudi Arabia would "always support the Palestinian cause on all levels, political, economic and humanitarian."[5] At the same time, however, Saudi Arabia arrested Sabih Al-Masri, a businessman of Palestinian origin and chairman of the Arab Bank, who controls large parts of the Jordanian economy. Al-Masri was released several days later, but his arrest may have been meant to signal the potential implications of Saudi Arabia's continued displeasure over the conduct of the PA and Jordan.

This report reviews the expressions of Saudi Arabia's strained relations with the Palestinians and Jordanians following Trump's Jerusalem announcement.

Tension Between Saudi Arabia, PA

Saudi Press In Response To Burning Of Saudi Flag In Gaza: Palestinians Are Ungrateful, Responsible For Their Own Plight

As stated, Trump's Jerusalem announcement sparked rage among Palestinians not only at the U.S. itself but also at Saudi Arabia, which was thought to be party to this move. Several hours after the announcement, a Palestinian news site reported that, in protests that had broken out in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian youths had burned Saudi flags alongside American ones.[6] On December 8, the same site reported that, unlike Friday sermons in the rest of the Muslim world, which had been dedicated to the issue of Jerusalem and to denouncement of Trump's move, Friday sermons in Mecca and Medina had not addressed this topic. According to the report, the preacher at Mecca's Grand Mosque alluded to it only by mentioning Saudi Arabia's role in protecting the Muslim holy places, and the preacher at Medina's central mosque did not mention it at all. [7]

Although PA officials denied the New York Times report that the Saudi Crown Prince had presented 'Abbas with Trump's peace plan, and were careful to avoid directly criticizing Saudi Arabia, Talal 'Okal, a columnist in the PA daily Al-Ayyam, hinted at Saudi pressure on the PA to accept Trump's plan and at the PA's displeasure over this. He wrote: "The truth is that certain Arab countries have started to abandon [the Palestinians]. These countries indulged in excessive [self-]delusion in order to preserve their regimes and their land, even at the expense of the rights of the Palestinians and Arabs. Some [of these countries apparently] deceived Trump that the Palestinians may accept Abu Dis as the capital of [their] state, like Netanyahu wants... Some Arab forces are party to the pressures being exerted on the Palestinians, despite all the statements and slogans about yearning for Jerusalem and all the denouncements of the American violation of Arab rights and U.N. resolutions."[8]

Report on Palestinian news site: Gazan protesters prepare to burn Saudi and U.S. flags (, December 6, 2017)

As stated, in response to the protests against Saudi Arabia on the Palestinian street, articles in the Saudi government press and in the London-based Saudi papers slammed the Palestinians for their ingratitude towards Saudi Arabia, which has for years extended them political and financial support. The articles asserted that Trump's announcement was expected, and that the U.S. position it expressed was nothing new, and advised the Palestinians to examine the positions of their own leaders, who had thwarted peace efforts and had allowed Iran, Syria and Qatar to exploit the Palestinian cause.

Saudi Columnist: The Citizens Of Saudi Arabia Will Not Remain Silent Over The Burning Of Their Flag

Jasser 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Jasser, a columnist for the Saudi Al-Jazirah daily, warned that Saudi citizens would not accept the burning of their country's flag: "In demonstrations and protests held at a [certain] Palestinian city, accusations were heard against the moderate Arab countries, to the extent that Arab flags were burned along with the American and Israeli ones. It seems that [the Palestinian protesters] regard these countries responsible for the erosion in the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, for the disagreements and even conflict between the Palestinian factions, and for the wars [these factions] are waging against one another on behalf of, and in the service of, the leaders of Iran, Qatar and Turkey. At [one of these] demonstrations, they burned the flag of Arab states, including a flag that every Arab and Muslim should revere, since it carries the motto of monotheism [i.e., the Saudi flag]... What position can we take when we see that Saudi aid is being extended to people who burn our flag, the flag of [all] Muslims? What can be our reaction when we see our country providing aid to the Palestinian government so it can pay the Palestinian civil servants, some of whom took part in the Gaza protests? What do they want, these mercenaries who carry out orders to target the moderate [Arab] countries, in particular Saudi Arabia? Do they want us to send troops to fight in their stead? Is it not enough that our country supports the Palestinian cause, politically and financially, and does all it can so that this cause will not be forgotten?... The repeated insults to Saudi Arabia, some of which were reported online, and the positions of certain mercenaries, Palestinian and other, are making the Saudi citizens very angry. Although the wise [Saudi] leadership always places the Palestinian cause at the top of its agenda, and will not be affected by the actions of a few 'mercenary midgets,' this [conduct] will no doubt evoke revulsion and anger in all Saudi citizens."[9]

Senior Saudi journalist Hussein Shobokshi also responded to the burning of the Saudi flag, and argued that the American position was expected in light of the Palestinians' weakness, which stemmed from the choices made by their leaders over the years. He wrote: "There is no cause in the world today more obvious than the Palestinian cause, but it has been hijacked by Arab and non-Arab leaders, with the help of some Palestinian leaders belonging to highly opportunistic political groups... A series of mistaken decisions were made by a not inconsiderable group of Palestinian leaders: first, the support for Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait and betray his neighbor, then the decision to support Assad and Iran in their wars on the Arab world, and finally [the decision to] rally behind Qatar in its plan to divide the Arab world by means of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizbullah.

"No reasonable person can comprehend the situation of the Palestinian public, which is instructed to hold up pictures of leaders who caused it to lose its land and, [conversely], to burn pictures of leaders who supported [the Palestinians] day and night. This sorry sight recurs again and again. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are two countries that have done a lot for the Palestinian cause, yet increasingly there is a blunt, hostile popular discourse [against them, discourse] that is directed and tailored to please the Qatari coup regime[10] and the Muslim Brotherhood organization.

"The Palestinians had a part in some of the internal [Arab] wars and in turning them into a tool for murder and civil strife, as happened in Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria and Egypt. All of these were doomed wars, and their price was paid by every respectable Palestinian who defended the Palestinian cause... The problem was the choices made by the Palestinian leaders, and their willingness to be used as tools by criminal hands...

"The Palestinians, more than anyone else, must seriously reexamine their political positions and choices and not adhere to decisions that have [already] cost them dearly. The Palestinian cause is a matter of rights, and it shall never die. But it needs different champions."[11]

Saudi Columnist: It Is The Palestinian Leadership That Perpetrated The Greatest Crime Against The Palestinians

Muhammad Al-Sa'd, a columnist for the Saudi daily 'Okaz, wrote in a column titled "Oh Palestinians, Blame [Only] Yourselves": "The time: 2000, a few weeks before U.S. President Bill Clinton leaves the White House. The place: a distant hotel in the Egyptian city of Taba, by the Gulf of 'Aqaba, the venue of one of the most important [rounds] in the Arab-Israeli negotiations, a continuation of the Washington negotiations, under Saudi-Egyptian-American sponsorship. These negotiations are considered the most important peace negotiations, squandered because of a Palestinian misappraisal; it can even be said that this was the gravest crime in the history of the Palestinian issue...

"Clinton found in the Saudis an honest broker with no personal agenda and with a sincere desire to end the suffering of the Palestinian people and to actualize their dreams of establishing an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. But what happened[?]

"All the parties agreed on a text for a historic treaty... The Saudi negotiating team worked tirelessly to reach [this] agreement and to persuade all the sides to accept it – but at the last minute Yasser Arafat backed out and refused to accept it. The Saudis kept trying to persuade Arafat to accept the final version, fearing that it would go down the drain, but to no avail...

"Therefore, the Palestinians must accuse those worthy of blame among their leaders and among the members of their negotiating team, who ruined the dream of a [Palestinian] state, of Jerusalem and of the return of the refugees by repeated the same crimes that have been committed against the Palestinian cause since 1948. [It is best that they do so] before they become pawns of Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hamadayn organization,[12] and news channels, [all of whom] seek to actualize agendas that will never actualize even the smallest of the [Palestinians'] dreams."[13]

'Izza Al-Subay'i, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Watan, wrote in response to a tweet by Palestinian billionaire Muhammad Hadid claiming that the Arabs had "sold" Jerusalem: "The truth is that if [Hadid] hadn't blamed others for the loss of his land he would not have been a Palestinian... This billionaire is one of 25 Americans of Palestinian origin who are included on Forbes' list of the wealthiest Americans. Yet they have not [formed] an organization to unite them, address Palestinian causes and problems, and leverage the power of [their] wealth to pressure U.S. politicians. Nor have they established any [media] channels, and they do not participate in events that remind the world of the oppression [suffered by] the Palestinians. We have not heard about any of them sponsoring a university or even the family of a martyr in Gaza or a hospital that takes care of the wounded from among the oppressed [Palestinian] people.

"Apart from this man [Hadid], there are millions of [other] Palestinians, most of whom have the ability to help their people and their cause in America, yet they do not do so. They cannot be compared to the Jews, their organizations, and their conviction that they must advance [Jewish] causes using [their] wealth and knowledge while ignoring the deep disagreements among them in order to defend the Zionist entity.

"What have the Palestinians done to advance their own cause? Every time an Arab hand has reached out [to help] Palestine, they chopped it off, including [the hands of] Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt and Iraq. They betrayed their own [cause] by sitting at the [negotiation] table with [former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin...

"If the [Palestinian] problem has a solution, it is... up to the Palestinians themselves. They must acknowledge that they are to blame for what is happening and for the loss [of the Palestinian cause], and that placing the blame on others will not help them but [only] exacerbate their mistakes and deprive them of the chance to fix them."[14]

PA Attempts To Appease Saudi Arabia

Following the harsh Saudi response to the burning of the Saudi flag and to the criticism leveled at the kingdom, the PA rushed to express its appreciation for Saudi Arabia's support of the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian Ministry of Religious Endowments issued a statement saying: "A few deviant voices are trying to hurt our Saudi brethren and to cast doubt on [Saudi Arabia's] positions. The Ministry condemns this... and stresses that the Saudi leadership has always adopted honorable and supportive positions."[15] The Fatah movement stressed "the depth of the brotherhood between Palestine and Saudi Arabia, and [Saudi Arabia's] unique historical support for the Palestinian people and cause." It warned against trying to shift the popular protests towards "private and regional agendas," and demanded to put a stop to the "offensive behaviors" at once.[16] Muwaffaq Matar, who writes for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, condemned the burning of the Saudi flag and of pictures of Saudi leaders, stating that "no Arab and patriotic Palestinian condones this."[17]

Tension Between Saudi Arabia And Jordan: Protesters In Amman Denounce Saudi Crown Prince; Saudis Criticize Jordan

As mentioned, Jordanians too expressed disappointment over measures reportedly taken by Saudi Arabia with respect to the peace process. The Jordanian establishment refrained from openly criticizing Saudi Arabia, and made do with several articles in the Al-Rai government daily expressing veiled criticism of the Saudi moves. For example, Fayez Al-Fayez, a columnist with the Jordanian government daily Al-Rai, questioned these moves in a column headed "Will the Arabs Give Up Jerusalem?" Published one day before the report in the New York Times about the peace plan allegedly proposed to 'Abbas, his column read, "Many Arab leaders are not thinking about a solution to the Palestinian problem right now. The leaders of substance are currently worried about the Iranian penetration into the Arab region, and do not admit to the mistakes that were made throughout history. Therefore, they are once again trying to calm the political tensions between the Palestinians and Israel for fear that the Iranians will take advantage of the situation. But in actual fact, Iran will be the only one to benefit if the Arabs make concessions to Israel and throw it a lifeline, [for] Iran will gain the support of the Arab masses, who will be angry [about such concessions]… The Arab capitals must realize that if understandings are reached behind the backs of the stakeholders, and if the declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is met with silence, then Israel will eventually swallow up [these capitals], both politically and in terms of security."

Al-Fayez also warned that Jordan is likely to make a unilateral decision "if any entity attempts to undermine its sovereignty in Jerusalem or the right of return, or to make any kind of deal behind its back. Jordan has choices that extend beyond its geographic and diplomatic borders. The Oslo Accords forced Jordan to sign the Wadi 'Araba Agreement [the peace agreement with Israel]. Today, Jordan will be forced to make decisions to protect its supreme interests everywhere."[18]

Alluding to the New York Times report, Al-Rai columnist Bilal Hassan Al-Tal levelled intense criticism at "certain political novices [i.e., the Saudi Crown Prince, who] have begun speaking in the name of the entire ummah, and especially in the name of the Palestinians, about relinquishing parts of Palestine, including Jerusalem, and even proposing a Palestinian capital other than Jerusalem. These people have forgotten, first of all, that a homeland cannot be bought and sold. Worse, they have forgotten that Palestine – all of Palestine – is sacred, [for] it is waqf territory of the entire ummah and nobody has the right to give up any part of this waqf…"[19]

Both before Trump's announcement and following it, an even harsher tone against Saudi Arabia was heard on the Jordanian street and from Jordanian public figures. Former Jordanian MP Hind Al-Fayez said: "Jerusalem was sold with a green light from the Saudis and with Arab sponsorship. The tragedy is that now the sale is public, and is no longer taking place in secret, as was the case in the past."[20]

The most flagrant expressions of anti-Saudi sentiment were seen in demonstrations in Amman against Trump's decision, at which protesters reportedly called the Saudi Crown Prince an "American agent."[21]

More evidence for the tension between Saudi Arabia and Jordan can be found in the harsh exchange between the Saudi ambassador to Jordan, Prince Khalid Bin Faisal Al-Sa'ud Bin Turki, and Jordanian MPs who denounced the warning issued by the Saudi embassy to its nationals in Jordan to keep their distance from anti-Trump demonstrations "out of concern for their safety."[22] The Saudi ambassador, for his part, expressed sorrow about the attack on his country and its leaders, which he described as "crossing the line." Claiming that Jordanian MPs had been involved in this attack, he drew their attention to the Jordanian law that prohibits foreign nationals from participating in demonstrations.[23] Jordanian MP Saleh Al-Armouti replied, "It saddens me to say that the American embassy warned its citizens not to go near the demonstrations in Jordan, and that the Saudi embassy did the same. This was not a wise decision." He added that Jordanian law does not prohibit Arab nationals from participating in protests pertaining to issues that concern the entire Arab and Islamic ummah, such as Jerusalem.[24]

It appears that Saudi Arabia, for its part, is being careful not to openly aggravate the tension with Jordan. As opposed to the numerous articles published in response to the protests in the Palestinian street, only one piece was published hinting that Jordan had a role in undermining the status of Jerusalem. 'Ali Sa'd Al-Moussa, a columnist with the Saudi government daily Al-Watan, wrote under the title "Who Sold Out Jerusalem?": "If we examined Palestinian Authority documents, from the days of the PLO to date, [we would find that] Saudi Arabia is in first place, way ahead of anyone else, in providing financial aid to the Palestinian people. The figures show that Saudi aid amounts to nearly half of the aid provided by all the other Arab governments put together, [and this has been the case] throughout [the history of] the Palestinian cause. Some may be ignorant of the fact that the U.S. is in second place in terms of aid to the PA over the last 20 years, and I would like the warrior brother Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas] and [Hamas political bureau head Isma'il] Haniya to remind us where Iran is on this list...

"The one who sold out Jerusalem is whoever blundered by failing to declare it the capital of Palestine between 1948 and 1967 – a historical period that nobody mentions..."[25]

On December 12, 2017, King 'Abdallah of Jordan met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and according to the Jordanian Al-Ghad daily, the former spoke with "his brother, the Custodian of the Two Holy Places," about the issue of Jerusalem and the serious implications of the U.S. decision to recognize it as the capital of Israel. King 'Abdallah called "to coordinate the Arab stance and to unite efforts" regarding the peace process and Jerusalem, and King Salman stressed that "Jordan's security is Saudi Arabia's security, Jordan's concerns are Saudi Arabia's concerns, and what hurts Jordan hurts Saudi Arabia."[26]

Despite these statements, following this visit King 'Abdallah visited Turkey to participate in the summit of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) initiated by Turkish President Erdogan, to the displeasure of Saudi Arabia, which sent only a low-level representative to the summit, State Minister for Islam and Preaching Salah Bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Bin Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh.[27] The Saudi decision to send a low-level representative sparked criticism in Jordan, for example from Al-Rai columnist 'Issam Qadamani, who wrote: "Jordan and the Palestinians have been left alone in the battle over Jerusalem. This is the truth. While Jordan has invested efforts over the last decade to reestablish Jerusalem as a [top priority] for the Arabs, there were those who pulled in the opposite direction, trying to establish it as a conflict [solely] between Israel and the Palestinian residents... The positions are very clear... Jerusalem has lifted the masks off one goal of [certain] Arab and Islamic states, [namely the goal of] peace at any price, meant to prepare the ground for legitimizing the relations that already exist, in practice, between these countries and Israel... The Jordanian people and leadership must know today that they and their Palestinian brethren are standing alone against the intention to Judaize Jerusalem... Jordan does not wish to be left alone in the fray. It tried to expand [the campaign beyond] the Arab arena to the entire Islamic world [by] participating in [the OIC] summit – but the disappointment was clear, not because of the [summit's closing] statement but because of the level of the representatives [sent by some of the countries], which reflected the decline of Jerusalem in the Arab agendas..."[28] Muhammad Abu Rumman wrote in a similar vein in the daily Al-Ghad: "The regional position of the Arabs is feeble and very unconvincing, as clearly reflected in the scope and level of the representation at the recent OIC summit in Istanbul. [This position] cannot be the basis for confronting the American position... The worrying fact is that this Arab 'political coma' with respect to Jerusalem is expressed not only in idleness but also in diverging assessments of the importance of the issue and of the Arab priorities and positions. This may be [the problem] that has been worrying the Arab street lately..."[29]


* N. Mozes is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7203, Twitter Clash: Saudis vs Palestinians On Palestinian Cause, Palestinian Resistance, November 30, 2017.

[2], December 3, 2017.

[3] Al-Ghad (Jordan), December 12, 2017.

[4] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), December 17, 2017. On the tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1315, Uproar In The Gulf Following Alleged Statements By Qatari Emir Condemning Gulf States, Praising Iran, Hizbullah, Muslim Brotherhood And Hamas, May 25, 2017.

[5], December 14, 2017.

[6], December 6, 2017.

[7], December 8, 2017.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 11, 2017.

[9] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), December 11, 2017.

[10] Qatari Emir Hamad Aal Thani, the father of the current emir, deposed his own father, Khalifa bin Hamad Aal Thani, from the throne in 1995.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 10, 2017.

[12] "The Hamadayn organization" is a derogatory term for Qatar coined following the Saudi-Qatari schism; it refers to the two Hamads: Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani, former Emir of Qatar, and Hamad bin Jassim, former Qatari prime minister and foreign minister, both of whom are considered to have had great influence on Qatar's policies.

[13] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 11, 2017.

[14] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 10, 2017.

[15], December 11, 2017.

[16] Wafa (PA), December 11, 2017.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 12, 2017.

[18]Al-Rai (Jordan), December 2, 2017.

[19] Al-Rai (Jordan), December 10, 2017.

[20], December 6, 2017.

[21] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 9, 2017.

[23], December 10, 2017.

[24] Al-Sabil (Jordan), December 9, 2017.

[25] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 11, 2017.

[26] Al-Ghad (Jordan), December 13, 2017.

[27] December 14, 2017.

[28] Al-Rai (Jordan), December 17, 2017.

[29] Al-Ghad (Jordan), December 18, 2017.

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