Days after tourism minister’s trip, communications minister heading to Saudi Arabia

Shlomo Karhi to be second member of Israeli government to travel to kingdom in less than a week, amid US push to broker normalization deal between Jerusalem and Riyadh

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi seen before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
File: Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi seen before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi is slated to become the second minister to publicly visit Saudi Arabia when he leads an Israeli delegation to the Universal Postal Union’s 2023 Extraordinary Congress on Monday, as Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia seem to edge closer to a normalization agreement.

Karhi is set to speak at the event that runs until Thursday, less than a week after Tourism Minister Haim Katz visited the kingdom for a United Nations conference.

The trips come as US President Joe Biden’s administration is actively engaging Riyadh and Jerusalem to try to broker a normalization deal between the two countries. As part of the framework, Saudi Arabia is also asking the US for a major mutual defense pact and significant arms deals, as well as Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday that a “basic framework” on a deal has been reached, but stressed the “complex” arrangement would require “compromise” from all sides.

Speaking last month at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “on the cusp” of a historic deal with Saudi Arabia.

Those comments came days after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, told Fox News that “every day we get closer” to his country normalizing ties with Israel while clarifying that the Palestinian issue is still a “very important” component of the process and declaring that Saudi Arabia will have to obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran does.

Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 27, 2023, on the first such high-level public mission to the oil-rich kingdom. (Israeli Tourism Ministry via AFP)

Earlier in September, an Israeli delegation of nine staffers flew to Saudi Arabia as observers for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting. The delegation was led by the head of Israel’s Antiquities Authority and included diplomats, according to an Israeli official.

In an unusual move, Karhi will not be accompanied to this week’s event by officials from the Israel Postal Company, amid an ongoing clash between him and its chairman, Mishael Vaknin.

According to Karhi’s office, the relevant officials were invited but decided to take part in the convention virtually. The Israel Postal Company disputes this, saying in a statement it did not receive the invitation to take part in the delegation.

“Representatives of the company will participate this year in the convention virtually, as we have done in past instances. The company did not receive an invite to come to Saudi Arabia as part of the Israeli delegation,” the postal company said

Karhi and Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem, who also has responsibility for government companies like the Israel Postal Company, tried to oust Vaknin in July in order to appoint their own close associates to positions within the organization.

Mishael Vaknin, who was dismissed in July from his position as chairman of the Israel Postal Company, at a hearing in the High Court of Justice for petitions against his dismissal, September 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice placed an injunction freezing the decision last month and ordered Karhi and Amsalem to explain their decision, indicating justices have taken a dim view of the matter.

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