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Additional 'small steps' towards normalization as second Israeli minister makes official visit to Saudi Arabia

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Knesset Economy Committee Chairman David Bitan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for the Universal Postal Union conference, Oct. 2, 2023 (Photo: Ministry of Communications)

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi became the second Israeli minister in a week to attend an international conference in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. Karhi was accompanied by 14 Israeli officials amid discussions regarding Saudi-Israeli normalization efforts. 

Last week, Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz became the first minister from the Jewish nation to attend an international conference in Saudi Arabia. 

Karhi vowed to continue to work toward Saudi-Israeli peace. 

“We’re here during the Sukkot holiday at an international conference. We’ll meet with representatives from around the world, and will bring the peace between the State of Israel and Saudi Arabia closer,” Karhi said in a video message after landing in Riyadh. 

Knesset Economy Committee Chairman David Bitan, who accompanied Karhi to Saudi Arabia, stressed that peaceful relations are achieved incrementally. 

“Everything starts with small steps, so this is the beginning, and we’ll see in the future how things develop for the benefit of the State of Israel and peace in the Middle East,” Bitan said.

The Israeli delegation in Saudi Arabia will attend a conference by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a United Nations agency tasked with coordinating global postal policies. 

It is currently unclear whether Karhi will meet his Saudi counterpart during the international conference in Riyadh. 

Last week, Saudi Arabia's Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb implicitly welcomed the Israeli tourism minister and his delegation. 

“There is a delegation here in the country for the first time. I hope they were received well. Welcome,” Khateeb said. “Everyone in this room understands that tourism is the bridge between people and between cultures," he added. 

Saudi Arabia and Israel have never had official diplomatic relations. While the Saudis did not officially join the Arab-Israeli Abraham Accords in 2020, Riyadh reportedly gave tacit approval for its neighbors Bahrain and UAE to make the historic agreement.

Last year, Saudi Arabia opened up its airspace to commercial Israeli air traffic, which greatly reduced travel times between Israel, the Persian Gulf region and more distant Asian destinations, such as India. 

During an exclusive interview with Fox News in September, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) openly announced that Saudi-Israeli normalization is getting closer every day. 

“Every day we get closer,” MBS said. However, the Saudi crown prince has publicly stated that a Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement would require that Jerusalem make concessions to the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is currently unclear what the Saudis are expecting concerning Ramallah. It is also uncertain whether the Israeli government would accept Saudi demands. 

Other reports indicate a willingness from the Saudi Kingdom to move forward with Israeli normalization even if Jerusalem does not make major concessions to the PA. 

On Saturday, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby revealed to the media that a “basic framework” was ready for a Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement. 

“All sides have hammered out, I think, a basic framework for what, you know, what we might be able to drive at,” Kirby said

“But, as in any complex arrangement, as this will inevitably be, everybody is going to have to do something. And everybody is going to have to compromise on some things,” he added. 

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

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