Israel approves travel to Saudi Arabia under certain circumstances

Israel has announced that it would allow Israeli citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the first time, under certain conditions, according to Reuters.

Israel today, Sunday, 26 January 2020, announced that it would permit Israeli citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the first time, under certain conditions that include Israeli entrepreneurs seeking investments, in a signal of warming ties.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, after consulting the country’s security establishment, issued a statement saying that Israelis would be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia under two circumstances: for religious reasons on pilgrimage on the haj, or for up to nine days for business reasons such as investment or meetings.

Travelers would still need an invitation and permission from the Saudi authorities, the statement said.

Israel has peace treaties with two Arab countries — Egypt and Jordan — but concerns over Iran’s influence in the region have led to thawing ties with some Gulf States as well.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been looking to capitalize on common interests like Iran while also marketing Israeli technologies to try and further normalize relations.

Israelis — mostly Muslims going on pilgrimage — have been traveling to Saudi Arabia for years but usually with special permission or using foreign passports.

Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia launched a new tourism visa last year for visitors from 49 countries as part of its bid to diversify the economy and open up society. Israel is not one of the eligible countries.

However, in 2018 Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for a commercial flight to Israel with the start of a new Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, although national carrier El Al Israel Airlines may not use Saudi airspace for eastward flights.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, after consulting with the country’s security establishment, issued a statement saying that Israelis would be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia under two circumstances. Citizens will be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for religious reasons on pilgrimage, for example, for Hajj, or for up to nine days for business reasons such as investment or meetings.

Travelers would still need permission from the Saudi authorities, the statement said.

Israel and normalization drive with Arab states

In October 2019, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz confirmed that he has been working on a normalization deal with Arab countries, mainly the Gulf state, he wrote in a tweet.

Katz said that he has been advancing non-aggression treaties with several Arab countries in the Gulf.

He called it an “historic” step that could end the conflict between the occupation state and those Arab countries.

“Recently, I have been promoting, with the backing of the prime minister, a diplomatic initiative to sign ‘non-aggression agreements’ with the Arab Gulf states,” Katz wrote on Twitter.

“It’s an historic move that will end the conflict and enable civilian cooperation until peace agreements are signed,” he said.

Katz confirmed that he had presented his plan to several Arab foreign ministers and the outgoing US special envoy for the peace process, Jason Greenblatt, on the sidelines of late month’s UN General Assembly.

“I will continue to work to strengthen Israel’s standing in the region and around the world,” Katz pledged.

The draft plan, according to the Times of Israel, includes commitments to develop “friendly relations and cooperation” in accordance with the UN charter and international law.

It also includes preventing hostility or incitement to hostility against each other, avoiding any military or security alliance with other parties against each other, cooperation in the fight against terror and advancing economic interests.

Netanyahu was very excited about a video call with a Saudi nobody

Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be unusually excited on the sidelines of the Likud party conference on 26 December 2019, smiling widely despite the troubles he is facing with politics and the law. The cause of such excitement was a video call, on his personal phone, with someone in a powerful Arab country.

The person on the other end of the call with the Israeli Prime Minister was neither a head of state nor a prominent Arab personality nor, indeed, an important businessman. He was a young man from Riyadh; apparently that controversial man is not only unemployed, but also loathed by the Arab public. He has received many insults on social media due to his shocking behavior and crude expressions. In short, he is nobody of note.

Last year, the same young man visited Jerusalem and was verbally abused and spat on when he paraded around the occupied city in his national dress. Many refer to him as a foolish person who is emotionally unbalanced. Others believe that he was recruited by officials from Arab countries to play such an appalling “normalization” role on behalf of them so that they will not jeopardise their own reputations.

His name is Mohammad Saud, a 20 year-old from Saudi Arabia who is popular among Israeli officials because he keeps flattering them and volunteering to serve the aims and objectives of Israel’s propaganda machine. Saud is the ideal model of the Arab man as far as the Israelis are concerned: he states openly that he sympathises with Israel; he expresses a preference to speak in Hebrew; he praises the ruling party in Israel, the Likud; and he declares that he does not care about the Palestinian people’s rights or struggle for justice.

“We love you so much,” he told Netanyahu.

“It is unfortunate that you cannot vote [in the Likud party leadership election] because you will be a wonderful Likud member,” replied the Zionist Prime Minister.

The fact of the matter was that Netanyahu could not find anyone to call in public, apart from a reckless young man, who did not dare to reveal his family name for fear of being a social outcast in his home country. However, Saud seems to enjoy certain privileges offered by the authorities so that he can make similarly provocative public calls under the umbrella of “normalization” with Israel, to the extent that he has hosted several Israelis in his home. Behavior like this cannot be sustained at an official level, as officials and public personalities in the Kingdom avoid such situations, which can easily spark indignation among their fellow citizens, Arabs and Muslims in general.

For years, Netanyahu has been bragging about the development of normalization contacts with some Gulf countries, including visits and forums sponsored by the Trump administration in Washington, as happened last year in Warsaw and Manama.

However, public expression of this trend in most Gulf countries remains cautious, as it contradicts the entrenched popular position in the area, and the Arab world in general, which rejects rapprochement with the occupiers of Palestine. As such, the official effort to normalize relations with Israel tends to advance one step and go back again straight afterwards.

Netanyahu and his team realize that his Arab friends tend not to disclose details of their communications with Israeli officials and visits to the occupation state which have taken place. Most normalization efforts are still secret encounters, in the same way that pleasure seekers meet at night. Thus, leaks about normalization endeavors are made mostly through the Israeli media and not from the Gulf; this tells us a lot about the dynamics of the situation.

The case of Mohammad Saud and others, who were largely unknown in their home societies, is not an expression of the progress of normalization efforts per se. They basically reveal the objective dilemma of normalizing relations with the Israeli occupation within a popular sphere, which categorically rejects such moves.

The popular acceptance across the region of the Israeli occupation has not yet been achieved. What is certain is that the Gulf and Arab people reject having friendly contacts with Netanyahu or other politicians, as well as their warmongering generals. This explains why Kuwait, which is distinguished by relatively decent freedom of expression and parliamentary life, is at the forefront of opposition to normalization.

Benjamin Netanyahu rejoiced while making the video call, and — as usual — he kept bragging about his “many” friends in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. However, those who dare to appear in photographs and develop contacts with the Israeli Prime Minister after all these years are very marginal people, with no reputations or popularity to jeopardize.