Despite Israel-Saudi Arabia talks and moves over normalization of relations, Saudi Arabia still seems to be reluctant to agree all the terms proposed by Israel, making the prospect of a deal more and more uncertain.
For the first time in the history of Israel, an Israeli official could set food on Saudi Arabia’s territory in an official visit to the Kingdom. This Tuesday, the office of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism issued a statement announcing that Israel’s tourism minister Haim Katz arrived in Saudi Arabia the same day for a United Nations conference.
During the two-day visit to Riyadh, the Israeli minister is scheduled to meet his Saudi counterpart and discuss ways of starting and expanding cooperation on tourism industry.
“Tourism is a bridge between nations,” Katz said, according to a statement from his office. “Cooperation in the field of tourism has the potential to bring hearts together, and economic progress and I will work to advance cooperation, tourism and the foreign relations of Israel,” he added. The government of Saudi Arabia has not yet confirmed the visit nor has it commented on the news.
Katz’s visit comes at a time when talks for concluding a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia are in process and the Israeli part has expressed optimism that a deal with Riyadh is on the way.
It was indeed the US who first urged its Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize diplomatic relations following similar deals involving the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Morocco in the framework of the Abraham Accords. But there are still many obstacles and challenges that Israel need to resolve before optimistically assure itself of a normalization deal with Riyadh.
Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization, still to soon to materialize
Just as the last example of the Kingdom’s reluctance to agree to any normalization deal with Israel without recognizing the state of Palestine, the newly appointed Saudi ambassador to the Palestinians Nayef al-Sudairi arrived in Ramallah on this Tuesday to present his credentials to the Palestinian Authority, saying that Saudi Arabia was “working to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
This is while Israeli officials, including Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, have asserted during the past few days that Israel would never give any concessions to the Saudis regarding the recognition of Palestine as a state. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday morning, Netanyahu hailed recent so-called “normalization” deals between Israel and Arab states, but asserted that Palestinians must not have “veto” over such agreements.
During his speech, Netanyahu outlined what he called his vision for “peace” in the Middle East, in which Arab states would embrace Israel regardless of the Palestinian issue. “I’ve long sought to make peace with the Palestinians. But I also believe that we must not give the Palestinians a veto over new peace treaties with Arab states,” he said.
During his visit with Abbas, Al-Sudairi pointed to the statements of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salaman last week, “in which he clearly indicated his great interest in the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people,” he said. Al-Sudairi, who is also ambassador to Jordan, was recently appointed the first-ever non-resident Saudi ambassador to the Palestinian Authority and consul general to East Jerusalem.
He also referred to statements made by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan last week at the UN General Assembly “regarding the importance of the Palestinian issue and its solution on the basis of the two-state solution leading to the establishment of the State of Palestine.”