Second Israeli minister lands in Saudi Arabia amid normalisation talks

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi's trip to Riyadh comes days after Tourism Minister Haim Katz visited the kingdom

Israel's Tourism Minister Haim Katz during his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia in the last week of September. Haim Katz via Facebook / via Reuters
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Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi became the second minister to publicly visit Saudi Arabia on Monday, as part of an Israeli delegation to the Universal Postal Union’s 2023 Extraordinary Congress in Riyadh.

Mr Karhi's trip, which was confirmed by his ministry, comes only days after Tourism Minister Haim Katz made the first official visit to the kingdom by a member of an Israeli government.

Mr Karhi will address the congress on Wednesday.

The visits follow Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's comments during an interview with Fox News that Riyadh was "getting closer" to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Saudi Arabia last week sent a delegation to the Israel-occupied West Bank for the first time in three decades in a bid to reassure the Palestinians ahead of any prospective agreement.

Israel established relations with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco under the US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020. Washington, which is also mediating in the potential agreement with Saudi Arabia, on Friday said a preliminary framework had been set up.

"All sides have hammered out, I think, a basic framework for what, you know, what we might be able to drive at," National Security Council spokesman John 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."

Saudi Arabia has been seeking security guarantees, including a defence pact with the US, in return for establishing ties with Israel, a source from the Saudi Foreign Ministry confirmed.

Analysts who spoke to The National said Saudi Arabia was willing to continue negotiations in the long-term to get the best possible deal.

“I think if we are planning to open up and have some relation with Israel, it's going to be structured,” Saudi analyst Ahmed Alibrahim said. "So, it's going to be more intense when it comes to brokering the deal.

But Saudi-Israeli talks face a series of issues to be resolved – particularly Saudi Arabia's commitment to being as fair to the Palestinians as possible, based on a two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative that Riyadh proposed during the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002.

“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” Prince Mohammed told Fox News.

Prince Mohammed denied reports that Riyadh was putting the talks on hold because Israel’s right-wing government was unwilling to offer any concessions to the Palestinians, and said the negotiations were "serious".

“We've got to see where we go. We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East,” he said.

Iran, which recently restored ties with Saudi Arabia after a gap of seven years, has been critical of agreements between countries in the region and Israel.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said such attempts to establish ties with its arch enemy Israel were "reactionary and regressive".

"Normalising relations with the Zionist regime is a reactionary and regressive move by any government in the Islamic world," Mr Raisi said during an international Islamic conference held in Tehran.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 5:08 PM