Israel’s tourism minister becomes first cabinet official to openly visit Saudi Arabia
In a diplomatic breakthrough signaling a once-unthinkable warming of ties, the head of Israel’s tourism minister traveled to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for a conference, marking the first open visit of an Israeli Cabinet official to the kingdom.
Tourism Minister Haim Katz’s two-day trip to Saudi Arabia will focus on tourism concerns as the industry continues to recover from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the larger significance of the trip is that it accelerates an ongoing, U.S.-backed effort to normalize relations between Israel and the richest and most powerful of the Gulf Arab nations that have long refused to deal with the Jewish state.
“Tourism is a bridge between nations. Partnership in tourism issues has the potential to bring hearts together and economic prosperity,” Mr. Katz said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “I will work to create collaborations to promote tourism and Israel’s foreign relations.”
Washington has long urged Israel and Saudi Arabia — both crucial allies of the United States —to normalize relations, similar to other U.S.-brokered initiatives with the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Bahrain begun under the Trump administration.
Mr. Katz’s visit to Saudi Arabia came as Saudi Arabia’s first ambassador to the Palestinian Authority arrived in Ramallah to present his diplomatic credentials. Nayef al-Sudairi is considered a non-resident ambassador. He will remain in Jordan and visit the Palestinian Authority as needed, according to local media reports.
Saudi Arabia has not had diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority for about 30 years. Ambassador al-Sudairi indicated that the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem would be central to any diplomatic deal with Israel.
De facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said in an interview with Fox News last week that the oil-rich kingdom was getting “closer” to a deal with Israel, but said that Riyadh would not abandon its support for a Palestinian state as talks go on.