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Israeli Tourism Minister Visits Saudi Arabia Marking First Public Visit by Israeli Official

Tourism Minister Haim Katz poses next to a UNWTO poster in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 26, 2023. Photo courtesy of Haim Kaitz
Tourism Minister Haim Katz poses next to a UNWTO poster in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 26, 2023. Photo courtesy of Haim Kaitz

On Tuesday, Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz traveled to Saudi Arabia for a United Nations (UN) conference, characterizing it as the first public trip to the country by a cabinet member of the Israeli government.

Minister Katz's visit to Riyadh comes as the Saudi monarchy is pursuing a possible United States-backed agreement to create formal bilateral relations with Jerusalem. Katz is leading a delegation at an UN-sponsored World Tourism Organization event.

According to a public statement from his office, the Israeli Tourism Minister said that tourism is "a bridge between nations."

"Cooperation in the field of tourism has the potential to bring hearts together and economic progress," he added.

Katz said he would "work to advance cooperation, tourism and the foreign relations of Israel." On Tuesday, the minister's office said he arrived in Riyadh leading a delegation to attend the UN event.

Following the successful efforts by the former Trump administration to garner peace among various Arab countries and Israel, Washington continues to urge Saudi Arabia to normalize diplomatic relations in a region that continues to face aggression from the Islamic Republic of Iran and its terrorist proxies.

"The visit of Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz in Riyadh is a historic step on the way to the expansion of the Abraham Accords and regional peace," Asher Fredman, Abraham Accords Peace Institute Director for Israel said to The Foreign Desk.

"Tourism, one of the Abraham Accords Peace Institute’s key areas of focus, can play a central role in building mutual understanding and win-win cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Fredman said.

Speaking to Fox News last week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said the Kingdom was almost reaching a deal with Israel but insisted that the Palestinian issue was "very important" for Riyadh.

In past months, Israel has sent diplomatic teams to Saudi Arabia to participate in sports and other events, including a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting. In addition to Israel's tourism minister visiting Saudi Arabia, Riyadh sent its first delegation to the West Bank to reassure Palestinians that they would support a Palestinian state and East Jerusalem as its capital.

"The Palestinian matter is a fundamental pillar," said Naif bin Bandar Al Sudairi, head of the Saudi delegation and ambassador to the Palestinians. Al Sudairi met with Palestinian diplomat Riyad al-Maliki in Ramallah for talks. According to reports, Al Sudairi's team was the first from Saudi Arabia to visit the West Bank since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Speaking to the United Nations last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu said that peace between Riyadh and Jerusalem was possible despite what many have said in the past. Following the signing of the Abraham Accords, Israel has expanded military and economic relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

Following Netanyahu's speech, Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, said that American-sponsored efforts to normalize Israeli relations with Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, would "see no success."

Related Story: U.S. Officials Say Saudis Have Agreed on Outline to Normalize Ties with Israel

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