Negotiations brokered by the United States are underway between Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish direct flights to Jeddah, in order to facilitate the Hajj pilgrimage for Israeli Muslims. Several Israeli news outlets reported on Sunday that significant progress had been made, with a senior Israeli official estimating a 60 percent chance of an announcement as early as next month.
The Hajj pilgrimage is a religious obligation for Muslims who are capable of embarking on the journey. This year, the Hajj is scheduled to start on June 25.
Saudi Arabia permits Muslim pilgrims from Israel to travel to Mecca, but they are required to transit through a third country. According to Maariv, approximately 2,700 Israelis undertook the Hajj in 2022, and it is anticipated that the number will be 4,500 this year.
In a groundbreaking development last year, Saudi Arabia announced the opening of its airspace to all civilian overflights, coinciding with US President Joe Biden’s historic direct flight from Israel to the Gulf nation. However, the expectation that Saudi Arabia would also grant approval for Hajj flights at that time was not fulfilled.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen recently expressed optimism about the potential for normalization with Saudi Arabia during an interview with Israel’s Channel 12.