Saudi Officials, Hamas Leaders Set to Meet to Discuss Re-Establishing Ties

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Senior Saudi officials were planning to meet with leaders of the Palestinian militant and political group Hamas on Sunday to discuss renewing diplomatic ties which have been cool since 2007, part of a diplomacy spree led by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman that has seen Riyadh move closer to Iran.

Re-establishing ties between Iran-backed Hamas, which is a U.S. designated terrorist group, and the Saudi kingdom would mark a setback for efforts by the U.S. and Israel to establish a military alliance between Israel and other Sunni-majority countries against Iran and its allies. They also complicate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal of normalizing relations with Riyadh, with opposition to Iran as their primary shared interest.  

Hamas was invited to the kingdom by Saudi leaders, Hamas officials said. Senior officials are expected to land in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, late Sunday, the officials said. The effort to re-establish ties is being pushed by Iran and Syria, said Saudi officials.

As part of the talks, Hamas officials hope to free scores of Palestinian prisoners held in Saudi Arabia who were imprisoned when the two sides were at odds, according to Saudi officials and a diplomat familiar with the matter. 

“We seek relations with all forces in the region and the world, and we have no enmity toward anyone, except for the Zionist enemy,” tweeted Mousa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas official who will be attending the meeting on Sunday. 

Representatives for the Saudi government didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Netanyahu’s office declined to comment.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is planning to visit Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this week.

Photo: Amr Nabil/Associated Press

Hamas, which has fought several wars with Israel, fell out of favor with Riyadh in 2007 after it violently wrestled control of the Gaza Strip from rival Palestinian faction Fatah, which controls the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority. Hamas’s growing ties with Iran further weakened its relationship with Riyadh, which also looked askance at Hamas for being an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement Riyadh has often viewed as a threat.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is also planning to visit Jeddah this week and will meet the crown prince on his trip, according to Saudi and Palestinian officials. While Saudi Arabia was once a strong backer of the Palestinian Authority, its aid to Ramallah has declined in recent years. Ties between the two sides have deteriorated as the kingdom grew closer to Israel and allied itself with the former Trump administration, which often clashed with the Palestinian leadership. 

Eventually brokering a reconciliation deal between Palestinian factions is a longer-term goal for the crown prince, said Saudi officials. 

Multiple previous efforts at brokering a reconciliation between Palestinian factions, including by Riyadh, have failed over disagreements on potential Palestinian elections, which haven’t taken place since 2006, and whether Hamas can keep its own military. 

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, will attend the meeting with Mr. Marzouk and Khaled Mashaal, key diplomatic officials for Hamas. 

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According to Saudi officials familiar with the visit, the kingdom’s rapprochement efforts with Hamas are part of a larger drive to demonstrate the crown prince’s diplomatic clout as regional players re-establish ties with Syria and countries such as China and Russia challenge the U.S. for influence in the volatile region. 

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and some other Arab states are rekindling ties with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Last month, Saudi Arabia also re-established ties with Iran in a deal brokered by Beijing.

The Saudi deal to renew diplomatic ties with Iran paved the way for Hamas to reopen dialogue with the Saudis, Saudi officials said.

Hamas’s leadership has been divided in recent years over how closely it should align with Iran. Mr. Haniyeh has advocated for closer ties with Tehran and its allies, while other senior leaders have warned the group could lose the support of Sunni Gulf states should it choose to do so, Israeli officials and political analysts have said.

“The Iran-Saudi rapprochement opened the door wider to this meeting,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies. “It is tectonic,” he said of Saudi Arabia’s recent diplomatic efforts. 

Mr. Netanyahu said shortly after taking office in December that one of his top goals was normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia. Israeli officials earlier this year expressed optimism that a deal could come within a few months. 

While quiet cooperation continues between Israel and Saudi Arabia on security, intelligence and business ties, efforts to expand relations with the Gulf kingdom and other Muslim nations have slowed, according to people familiar with the efforts. Jacob Nagel, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the outreach to Hamas shows that the Saudis “are trying to play all sides, and not put the cards in one basket.”

—Fatima AbdulKarim contributed to this article.

Write to Summer Said at [email protected] and Dov Lieber at [email protected]

Corrections & Amplifications
Hamas leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are planning to meet with Saudi officials in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the meetings would be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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