Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Minister of Tourism Haim Katz.
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Israeli Tourism Minister Chaim Katz became the first to travel to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the kingdom sent its first ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, whose credentials the Palestinians’ first diplomat accepted.
The two moves follow months of negotiations involving the United States that should lead to Israeli-Saudi normalization, a relationship that could transform the Middle East.
Last week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman confirmed that the two countries were moving closer to a deal promoted by Washington. As part of it, Riyadh wants progress in settling the Palestinian conflict.
The reason for Katz’s visit is a UN conference, where Katz heads a delegation. This was announced by his office, describing the visit as the first public visit to the country by a member of the Israeli cabinet.
It is not known whether others, undisclosed, have taken place in the past; information appeared in the Western media a few years ago that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Prince Mohammed on the shores of the Red Sea.
In recent months, Israel has already sent delegations to Saudi Arabia to participate in sporting and other events, including a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting.
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“I will act to create cooperation for the development of tourism and Israel’s foreign relations,” Katz said in a statement quoted by Israeli and international media.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia sent its first delegation in three decades to the occupied West Bank to reassure the Palestinians that it would champion their cause. Diplomat Naif al-Sudairi described the Palestinian issue as a “main pillar”. He pointed to the Arab Peace Initiative, led by Saudi Arabia and approved in 2002, under which Arab states had to wait for a settlement of the Palestinian conflict before establishing relations with Israel. Israel’s Abrahamic Accords with 4 Arab countries in recent years have changed this.
“The Palestinian issue is a main pillar,” said Naif bin Bandar al-Sudairi, who heads the Saudi delegation and is the new ambassador to the Palestinians, after meeting top Palestinian diplomat Riyad al-Maliki in Ramallah for talks and the presentation of his credentials.
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This is the first Saudi delegation to the West Bank since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The ambassador will not be based in the Palestinian Authority, as Israel currently does not accept the idea of his mission being in occupied East Jerusalem.