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In first, Israeli delegation officially in Saudi Arabia at UNESCO conference

Unclear whether Israeli officials will meet their Saudi counterparts in person

Members of the Israeli delegation attend the UNESCO Extended 45th session of the World Heritage Committee at the al-Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 11, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri)

Nine Israeli officials are currently attending a United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee meeting in Saudi Arabia as observers.

This marks the first time that Israeli representatives are officially attending a forum in the Saudi Kingdom, which currently does not have official diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Eskosido is heading the delegation from Jerusalem. While the official presence of Israeli representatives on Saudi soil is an important diplomatic development, it is unclear whether the officials will meet their Saudi counterparts in person.

Israel had initially hoped to secure a more senior presence at the global UN conference, with Jerusalem pushing for visas for Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Education Minister Yoav Kisch to make the trip, according to Israel's Channel 13 news.

However, the Saudi government reportedly presented obstacles and the U.S. administration allegedly persuaded the Israeli government to capitulate. Some believe Washington is concerned that such short gain could potentially undermine the long-term goal of securing a historic normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In August, Washington and Riyadh reportedly agreed on a broad outline for a future potential Saudi-Israeli peace deal, which apparently included significant demands from the kingdom regarding Israel's concessions to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, Saudi Arabia may resume its financial assistance to the PA.

The Jewish nation became a UNESCO member in 1949, however, in December 2018, Israel withdrew from the controversial UN organization due to its alleged anti-Israel bias, including its denial of ancient Jewish history in Jerusalem and throughout the land of Israel.

In early August, UNESCO was expected to vote on defining the biblical town of Jericho as a “Palestinian World Heritage site.”

Likud party Knesset Member Dan Illouz blasted the PA's attempt to erase Israel’s ancient history.

“The Palestinian Authority continues its horrendous attempt to erase Israel's rich biblical history,” Illouz said. “We will stop this atrocity and we will not allow them to demolish our past. Their fear of our history only highlights our eternal right to our land.” 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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