In a landmark move, Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for the first public visit by an Israeli cabinet member to the kingdom. Katz is attending a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) conference in Riyadh, where he is leading a delegation of Israeli officials and tourism experts.
Katz said that tourism is a bridge between nations and that he will work to advance cooperation, tourism and foreign relations of Israel. He also expressed his hope that the visit will pave the way for more dialogue and understanding between the two countries, which do not have formal diplomatic ties.
The visit comes amid reports of ongoing talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalize relations, following the example of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, which have all established ties with Israel in the past year. The US-brokered deals, known as the Abraham Accords, have been hailed by some as a breakthrough for peace and stability in the Middle East, but criticized by others as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
Saudi Arabia has publicly stated that it will not normalize relations with Israel until there is a comprehensive and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there have been signs of a thaw in relations, such as the first official visit by a Saudi delegation to the Palestinian territories on Tuesday. The newly appointed Saudi ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, Nayef al-Sudairi, said that the kingdom is working towards establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.