Despite approval in Israel, Saudi Arabia says Israelis can’t visit country
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Despite approval in Israel, Saudi Arabia says Israelis can’t visit country

Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan tells CNN: ‘We don’t have relations with Israel’; only after peace deal with Palestinians will there be anything to talk about

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends a meeting in Athens, January 24, 2020. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends a meeting in Athens, January 24, 2020. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Israeli citizens are not allowed to come to Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s foreign minister announced Monday, after the Jewish state said it gave its citizens the green light to visit.

Israel’s interior ministry on Sunday said Israeli citizens, both Muslims and Jews, have the right to travel to Saudi Arabia for religious and business visits.

But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told CNN that Israelis are not welcome at the moment in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites.

“Our policy is constant. We don’t have relations with Israel and holders of Israeli passports cannot visit the kingdom for now,” he said, according to CNN’s Arabic website.

Like most Arab countries, Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Israel has peace deals with only two Arab countries — Jordan and Egypt — but its control of Palestinian territory has long served as a major factor preventing similar accords with the rest of the Arab world.

Israel has, however, been seeking to build ties with Gulf nations in recent months.

“We strongly encourage the reaching of a solution” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, said Bin Farhan. “When a peace treaty between the Palestinians and Israel is reached the question of Israel’s integration in the region will be on the table I believe,” he added.

His comments came as US President Donald Trump said in Washington that his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan — already rejected by the Palestinians — has a “chance.”

Trump is to roll out his administration’s long-awaited peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday, following meetings this week in Washington with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz.

On Sunday Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri signed an order permitting Israelis to go to the kingdom to participate in business meetings or to search for investments provided that they have an invitation from an official body and have taken care of the necessary paperwork to enter the country.

It also formally allows Muslim citizens of Israel to travel to the Saudi city of Mecca to perform the hajj or Umrah religious pilgrimage, the ministry said in a statement. Israeli pilgrims usually travel for the hajj on temporary Jordanian papers.

Illustrative: Interior Minister Aryeh Deri leads a Shas faction meeting at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

Clandestine relations have increased in recent years between Jerusalem and Riyadh, focused mainly on security issues, especially given the mutual enmity to Iran.

In September, Saudi Arabia harshly attacked Netanyahu’s announcement that he plans to 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.

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