Deputy Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques expresses during Cabinet session Saudi Arabia’s appreciation for Abu Dhabi’s GCC summit resolutions

Crown Prince Sultan welcomes next GCC summit convening in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Cabinet hails Argentine, Brazilian recognition of the state of Palestine

Recent developments of Palestinian issue after failure of endeavors to freeze construction of settlements

Deputy Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud chaired the Cabinet session held at Al-Yamamah Palace.

At the outset of the session, the Deputy Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques expressed, on behalf the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Kingdom's appreciation of the resolutions of the 31st session of the Supreme Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held in the United Arab Emirates, which embody the hopes and objectives of the GCC Member States. The Deputy Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques also thanked the GCC leaders for their sincere feelings towards the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, praying Allah Almighty to bestow continuous health on the King.

On behalf of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz welcomed the GCC leaders to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where they will convene the next GCC summit, asking Allah Almighty to grant the GCC leaders all success in achieving more stability and prosperity for the GCC peoples.

Then, the Deputy Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques briefed the Cabinet on the consultations and contacts that took place during the previous week with a number of leaders of brotherly countries, including the message he received from Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques as well as the meeting he held with Head of Morocco's Council of Advisors Dr. Mohammad Al-Sheikh Baidallah.

In a statement to Saudi Press Agency (SPA) following the session, Minister of Culture and Information Dr. Abdulaziz bin Mohieddin Khoja said the Cabinet listened to reports on regional and international developments, praising Brazil and Argentina's recognition of a Palestine of the 1967 borders, stating that this step is an important development in the international support for the national legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

On the other hand, the Cabinet warned against the escalation of Israeli violations in the occupied Palestinian territories as well as the Israeli activities of demolition, resettlement and Judaization in Al-Quds City and the vicinity of Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling on the Islamic and Arab nations to take a firm stance to deter Israel from continuing such violations that destabilize security in the region and the world.

Dr. Khoja also said that the Cabinet addressed the scientific, social and economic activities and seminars held during the previous week as well as the Kingdom's participation in a number of international conferences. The Cabinet praised the outcomes of the United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 11 December 2010 which encompassed the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) and the sixth Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP).

Dr. Khoja said that the Cabinet reviewed a number of issues on its agenda and issued the following decisions:

The Cabinet authorized the Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior - or his deputy - to discuss and sign with the Qatari side four draft agreements between the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the government of the State of Qatar in the fields of 1. Anti-crime; 2. Extradition of accused and convicted persons; 3. Transfer of persons sentenced to the deprivation of freedom; and 4. Organization of border authorities.

The Cabinet approved an agreement on the promotion and reciprocal protection of investments between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic signed in Riyadh on 18/11/2009.

The Cabinet authorized the Governor of the Communications and Information Technology - or his deputy - to discuss and sign with the Algerian side a draft memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the field of communications and information technology between the Communications and Information Technology Commission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Regulatory Authority for Post and Telecommunications of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria.

The Cabinet approved a memorandum of cultural cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of India signed in Riyadh on 28/02/2010.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, after nearly two years of frustration and failure, began its Middle East peace efforts anew with its special envoy, George J. Mitchell, holding talks in Jerusalem on ways to improve the atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians and ultimately negotiate over the core issues that separate them.

Last week the administration ended its efforts to persuade Israel to freeze settlement building in the West Bank as a precursor to direct talks. Instead, there will be no direct talks for now. Rather, Mitchell will ask both sides to lay out their negotiating positions to the United States separately and the Americans will seek ways to bridge the gaps.

Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Monday, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank on Tuesday and the foreign ministers of the Arab League in Cairo on Wednesday.

Mitchell, who has not been in Israel for three months, found himself pursuing this more indirect strategy after the Obama administration withdrew an offer to Israel of warplanes and diplomatic assurances in exchange for a 90-day freeze on settlement construction.

Israeli officials say Netanyahu had accepted the offer in principle but before it was accepted by his government Washington pulled out, worried that it placed too much pressure on those 90 days and that the Palestinians might not negotiate because the proposed freeze excluded East Jerusalem.

At an economic conference in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that although he had been ready to consider another freeze, he was happy to see the emphasis shift from a construction halt — what he called a marginal issue — to core questions like mutual recognition, security and refugees.

Israeli officials said they expected that initial discussions with the Americans would center on gestures that Israel would offer Palestinians — easing of security, improved economic opportunities — and how to structure the talks ahead.

Netanyahu and Abbas did hold direct talks in September near the end of a first settlement construction freeze. But Abbas ended those talks when the freeze ended, and efforts since then have focused on returning to those direct talks. Now, the initial approach will be limited to each side’s speaking with the United States.

Among the Palestinians, the prevailing atmosphere was one of sourness and gloom. Officials said they did not expect Mitchell to bear any new ideas or encouraging proposals. They questioned the ability of the United States to play the role of mediator and expressed uncertainty about where to go from here.

After a meeting this week, members of the Fatah Central Committee, the main decision-making body of Abbas’s party, said they opposed any negotiations with Israel, direct or indirect, in the absence of a settlement freeze. They added that there would have to be clear terms of reference for any further talks, namely a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.

“Regretfully,” Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah Central Committee member told the radio station Voice of Palestine, “the American administration is still moving in the shadow of the Israeli stance, in order to avoid upsetting the Israeli right-leaning government.”

Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian political analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the Palestinian negotiators would probably continue to engage with the Americans and share their thinking with Washington.

“But the Palestinian side will most likely want to avoid the perception that they are engaged in negotiations with the Israelis,” Shikaki said in a telephone interview. Putting the emphasis on engagement with the Americans, he continued, would represent a “shift in focus” from the so-called proximity talks, the indirect, American-brokered negotiations that took place earlier this year.

At the same time, the Palestinians are pursuing other options, chiefly seeking international endorsement for the 1967 lines as the borders of their future state.

“There is a growing desire on the part of the Palestinian public to seek out alternative means,” Shikaki said.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, said his country is still seeking 20 additional F- 35 fighter jets even after the failure of a U.S. offer to provide the planes in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

The 20 jets would be in addition to the 20 Lockheed Martin Corp.-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, valued at about $2.8 billion, that Israel ordered in October, Oren told Bloomberg News reporters and editors in Washington this week.

“It was clear from the beginning that the 20 we were purchasing would not be enough and we’d require more,” Oren said. The F-35 planes are the “ballast in helping Israel maintain its qualitative military edge” over potential foes in the region, he said.

Defense officials from both countries are discussing ways to pay for the “expensive” jets because Israel lacks the funds, Oren said.

The U.S. had offered the 20 additional F-35 jets as part of an effort to revive direct Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which stalled after an earlier freeze on West Bank settlement construction ended in September. Israel’s Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed the offer at a Nov. 17 news conference at the Pentagon.

The Obama administration said last week that it would stop pushing Israel for a renewed 90-day construction moratorium. “The 90-day extension discussion is off the table but the 20 extra jets are very much on the table,” Oren said. “It’s not attached to the 90-day freeze.”

Discussion on providing Israel with an additional set of 20 F-35 jets began around mid-year, part of a longstanding U.S. undertaking to help Israel “defend itself against any Middle East adversary or a combination of adversaries,” Oren said.

“It wasn’t a bribe, and was not intended to be a bribe, but part of ongoing discussions.”

Recent U.S. sales of weapons to the Middle East, including the proposed transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia, have eroded Israel’s military edge against nations in the region that have larger defense budgets than Israel, Oren said.

The U.S. currently provides Israel $3 billion annually in military aid. The program isn’t as sufficient to buy protection as it had been 20 years ago when it began, Oren said.

In October, the Obama administration told Congress of plans to sell Saudi Arabia arms valued at $60 billion, which may be the largest weapons sale to another country in U.S. history if all purchases are made.

The plan included Boeing Co. F-15 fighter jets, attack helicopters and satellite-guided bombs, according to notices sent to Congress on Oct. 20. It also covers transport helicopters made by United Technologies Corp. and advanced radar from Raytheon Co.