In an extraordinary turn events, a planned visit by a Saudi ambassador to the Al Aqsa Mosque was cancelled following a backlash from Palestinians over rumours that Saudi Arabia could normalise ties with Israel. 

Nayef al-Sudairi, the newly appointed Saudi ambassador to the Palestinians, reportedly cancelled a planned visit on Wednesday to the Al Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount as part of his visit this week to Ramallah.

The visit would have been the first by an official Saudi delegation since Israel captured the Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Reports of the planned visit sparked critical reactions by Palestinians on social media, with some considering it a sign of normalisation with Israel and calling to prevent it. According to Palestinian sources quoted by Haaretz, the Saudi delegation understood the sensitivity of the issue for the Palestinians, and decided to postpone it.

Al-Sudairi, who is also ambassador to Jordan, presented his credentials as non-resident ambassador to the Palestinian Authority this week.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told US President Joe Biden during their meeting last week that he is prepared to take steps that would keep the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement alive as part of the normalization agreement that Washington is trying to broker between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu has said publicly since the New York meeting that the Palestinians should be part of the US-Israel-Saudi agreement — but that they should not have a veto over it. 

The White House is aiming to wrap up negotiations by the end of the year, according to Israeli and US officials. Because the deal will likely include Saudi and Israeli demands for defense pacts with the US, those will then have to be submitted to the Senate and receive the backing of two-thirds of the body — an uphill battle that will likely extend until next spring.