update deskMiddle East

First-ever official Israeli delegation arrives in Saudi Arabia

The development comes amid a U.S.-led effort to persuade Riyadh to join the Abraham Accords.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Mohammed Younos/Shutterstock.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Mohammed Younos/Shutterstock.

An official Israeli delegation arrived for the first time in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay told Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during a recent meeting in Paris that the Saudis had signed a “host country agreement” with the U.N. body, allowing officials from all member states to attend the 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Riyadh on Sept. 10-25.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment on the matter when contacted by JNS.

Israel withdrew from UNESCO in 2019, citing the body’s bias.

In a 2016 resolution, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron, in the name of the “State of Palestine” on its “List of World Heritage in Danger.”

UNESCO passed 47 resolutions between 2009 and 2014, 46 directed against Israel and one that criticized Syria.

More recently, Likud lawmaker Dan Illouz sent a letter to Azoulay asking her to prevent ancient Jericho from being listed as a city in the “State of Palestine.”

However, Israeli sites remain listed on the World Heritage List, and Jerusalem sends representatives as observers to the World Heritage Committee.

In June, UNESCO announced that the United States was rejoining the body the following month and paying more than $600 million in outstanding dues. The Trump administration had withdrawn from UNESCO at the same time as Jerusalem.

Sunday’s development comes amid a U.S.-led diplomatic push 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.

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

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

In July, though, a team of Israelis competed in Saudi Arabia in the annual FIFAe World Cup, which sees participants play the latest version of the popular soccer video game.

This month, a delegation of Israeli athletes is competing in the 2023 IWF World Weightlifting Championships in Riyadh.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is actively courting Saudi Arabia to join the accords, which he said would constitute a “quantum leap” toward regional peace.

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

Nevertheless, Netanyahu said last month that, “I think that we are about to witness a pivot of history,” adding: “I’d bet on it.”

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