Israel to allow its citizens to visit Saudi Arabia
Israel's interior ministry said on 26 January 2020 that it will now allow Israelis to travel to Saudi Arabia for religious or business visits. The announcement is the latest sign of quiet but warming relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. It also came days before the White House is to announce its Mideast peace plan -which is expected to seek Saudi support.
- Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations. But the two sides have found common ground in their shared animosity toward Iran. Israeli PM Netanyahu often boasts of back channel ties with Arab countries.
- Under 26 January 2020 announcement, Israeli Muslims can go to Saudi Arabia for religious pilgrimages. In the past, such visits required special permission from the government, the ministry said.
- In a first, it said Jewish Israelis will be permitted to go to Saudi Arabia to conduct business deals. While some Israelis are believed to already visit Saudi Arabia, this requires either a foreign passport or special permission.
- It also formally allows Muslim citizens of Israel to travel to the Saudi city of Mecca to perform the hajj or Umrah religious pilgrimage. Israeli pilgrims usually travel for the hajj on temporary Jordanian papers.
- The ministry statement said Israelis would be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for up to nine days, but an official later clarified that the permits would be for 90 days.
- Until now, Israeli law banned citizens from traveling to many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, without express permission from the interior minister, and increasingly common visits by Israeli businessmen were generally held secretly.
- It isn’t clear whether the new order will in fact allow Israelis to visit Saudi Arabia, however, since Riyadh generally bars Israeli nationals from the country and hasn’t made an announcement easing those restrictions.
- In September, Saudi Arabia harshly attacked Netanyahu’s announcement that he would annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank, convening an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to condemn the planned move.