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Riyadh to allow Israeli officials attend UNESCO confab

It would mark the first time members of the Israeli government have officially and publicly entered the Sunni Muslim kingdom.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (second from left) at a meeting with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris, June 16, 2023. Source: Twitter.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (second from left) at a meeting with French President Emanuel Macron in Paris, June 16, 2023. Source: Twitter.

Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement with UNESCO to allow delegations from all member states, including Israel, to attend the World Heritage Committee’s meeting in Riyadh in September, according to an Axios report.

If Saudi Arabia follows through on the commitment, it will mark the first time members of the Israeli government have officially and publicly entered the Sunni Muslim kingdom.

Axios reported last month that Riyadh was refusing to sign a “host country agreement” with UNESCO, with Israeli participation in the upcoming event being the main sticking point.

Without such an agreement, preparations for the meeting in the Saudi capital cannot begin.

UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay told Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during their meeting in Paris last week that the negotiations with the Saudis were successful.

Invitations for the meeting will be sent in the next few days to all member states, including Israel, although Jerusalem remains concerned that Riyadh will attempt to backtrack.

In March, the Saudis blocked a group of Israeli Muslims from attending a United Nations event held in the Gulf Arab state.

The U.N. World Tourism Organization had invited villagers from the Circassian town of Kfar Kama in the Lower Galilee region of northern Israel to the event honoring their village, but Saudi authorities denied them visas.

The Netanyahu government is attempting to persuade Riyadh to join the Abraham Accords, the Trump administration-brokered deals that normalized the Jewish state’s relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February said he was actively courting Saudi Arabia as that would constitute a “quantum leap” towards regional peace.

But Riyadh is reportedly demanding security guarantees from the United States before it enters into any normalization deal, along with U.S. assistance in building its civilian nuclear program.

Earlier this month, a team of Israelis arrived in Saudi Arabia to participate in a global video game competition.

Three gamers, their coach and manager entered the Gulf state via the United Arab Emirates using their Israeli passports.

Team manager Zvika Kosman told Israel’s public broadcaster that he worked in conjunction with FIFA, which hosts the event, to ensure the Saudis allowed the team to participate.

He said that there was no direct contact between Jerusalem and Riyadh during the negotiation process, adding that the team had agreed not express their Israeli identity outwardly in public.

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