An Israeli delegation led by Tourism Minister Haim Katz received a warm, public welcome in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday during the opening session of a UN World Tourism Organization gathering.
“There is a delegation here in the country for the first time. I hope they were received well. Welcome,” Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb told state representatives gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh for the annual UN World Tourism Day celebrations.
“Everyone in this room understands that tourism is the bridge between people and between cultures,” added Al Khateeb.
Katz landed in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, becoming the first Israeli Cabinet member to lead a public delegation to the Gulf kingdom.
“Partnership in tourism issues has the potential to bring hearts together and economic prosperity,” he said in a statement released by his office. “I will work to advance cooperation, tourism and the foreign relations of Israel.”
This week’s trip comes on the background of growing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia as the two work toward a normalization deal. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said last week that peace with the Jewish state is “getting closer every day.”
US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke openly on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly debate in New York about a coming agreement.
Earlier this month, an Israeli diplomatic delegation arrived for the first time in Saudi Arabia, for a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi is scheduled to fly to Riyadh next week for a congress organized by the Universal Postal Union.
Meanwhile, a Saudi contingent traveled to the Samaria city of Ramallah this week for a meeting with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas. The delegation is headed by Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Nayef al-Sudairi, Riyadh’s first-ever non-resident envoy to the PA and consul general to Jerusalem.
After presenting his credentials to Abbas, al-Sudairi referred to bin Salman’s recent statements, in which “he clearly indicated his great interest in the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people,” according to the PA-controlled Wafa news agency.
Al-Sudairi had also planned to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during his stay, but reportedly nixed the visit due to fears of a Palestinian backlash.
Reports of the visit, which was planned to coincide with the celebrations of the prophet Muhammad’s birthday on Wednesday, led to fierce Palestinian criticism online, with some social media users attacking Saudi Arabia for negotiating a normalization agreement with Israel.
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