Israel is hopeful that Saudi Arabia will allow direct flights for its Muslim citizens who will soon undertake the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Saudi consent for direct flights, which is still under consideration, would be another step forward in normalization between the nations.
Israel has made a request for the flights and is awaiting Riyadh’s response.
“This issue is under discussion. I cannot tell you if there is any progress,” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said last week in an interview with Army Radio. “But with that, I am optimistic that we can advance peace with Saudi Arabia.”
Israeli officials noted that the permission could come at the 11th hour, just before the June 26 to July 1 pilgrimage begins. Saudi Arabia has allowed Israeli airlines to overfly its territory since July 2022.
About 18% of Israelis are Muslim.
A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem declined to comment on the issue.
Currently, Arab Israelis who undertake the pilgrimage have to travel through third countries such as Jordan to get to Saudi Arabia, incurring additional expenses on both the outbound and return journeys. Around 6,000 Israelis make the hajj each year.
Previously, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that he had secured Riyadh’s consent in principle for the flights.
Biden administration officials had also predicted last year that such flights would be arranged. However, with U.S.-Saudi ties strained, no such confirmation has come from Riyadh to date.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly voiced the hope of reaching a historic peace accord with Saudi Arabia.
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