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Israel’s tourism minister flew to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to participate in a United Nations-sponsored conference, marking the highest-level visit yet by an Israeli official to the kingdom, and a significant development in the potential normalization of ties between the two countries, Bloomberg reported.
Minister Haim Katz arrived at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to attend the two-day event organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. His office said Katz is scheduled to meet other ministers from the Middle East but did not provide any further details.
The visit follows efforts by the United States to create a deal that would see Saudi Arabia and Israel establish diplomatic relations for the first time. Both countries have expressed interest in normalizing ties, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman – the kingdom’s de facto leader – recently saying that a deal was getting closer “every day.”
Even so, there are still a number of sticking points, particularly over the issue of Palestinian statehood.
The Saudi government has maintained that it will only consider normalizing relations with Israel if substantial progress is made toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, the Associated Press noted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his main focus is normalizing relations between Israel and other Arab states before addressing the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Israel established diplomatic relations with four Arab countries in 2020: the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain.
Meanwhile, Katz’s visit came as Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to the Palestinian Authority officially visited the occupied West Bank for the first time.