Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi praised the warming relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday at a conference in Riyadh, calling them “blossoming ties.”
Karhi this week became the second Israeli cabinet member to formally visit the Saudi capital, heading a 14-member delegation to a UN Universal Postal Union conference.
Notably, the Israeli delegation did not have any representatives from the Israel Postal Company. Karhi has been feuding with the body since he fired its chairman, a move that the High Court of Justice has frozen.
Karhi addressed the forum in English, saying that “when nations converge on mutual goals, the outcomes can be monumentally transformative.”
“We appreciate the tireless efforts of the leaders of Saudi Arabia and our Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for nurturing the blossoming ties between our nations,” he added.
The minister also thanked the government and people of Saudi Arabia for their hospitality, saying that “our common respect for God and tradition can serve as a bedrock of harmony between our peoples.”
Finishing in Tunisian Arabic, which he called his mother tongue, Karhi said, “May God bless you all and may God give you health, and may your lives be lives of joy and happiness. And we thank God for all the blessings showered upon us.”
During his trip, Karhi also visited a 500-year-old Torah scroll on display at an annual book fair.
The Likud minister was seen in a short video clip shared by his office reading from the religious scroll a description of the Sukkot holiday.
— roi kais • روعي كايس • רועי קייס (@kaisos1987) October 4, 2023
Karhi also attended what his office described as a belated bar mitzvah for a 70-year-old man.
הבוקר, בריאד, ערב הסעודית, חגג יהודי בן 70 את בר המצווה שלו בתפילה עם שר התקשורת הישראלי שלמה קרעי.. pic.twitter.com/NY8tUY2tIi
— מה חדש.❓ (@Gloz111) October 4, 2023
On Tuesday, Karhi participated in a morning prayer service, complete with a Torah scroll dedicated to the rulers of the kingdom. The service, which included a quorum, or minyan, of at least 10 men, took place in Karhi’s hotel, and included three Jews who were in Riyadh but are not part of Karhi’s delegation.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, has never recognized Israel and long insisted it would not do so without a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the administration of US President Joe Biden has been pushing for a landmark normalization deal that could reorder the Middle East.
Riyadh did not join the US-brokered Abraham Accords, which saw its Gulf neighbors Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Morocco establish formal ties with Israel in 2020.
During the conference, Karhi called the Abraham Accords “monumentally transformative.”
His visit comes days after the first official trip by an Israeli cabinet member, Tourism Minister Haim Katz, who last week attended a separate UN meeting in Saudi Arabia. Katz did not make any public remarks.
The White House said last week that Saudi and Israeli negotiators were moving toward the outline of a deal.
Riyadh is bargaining hard for security guarantees from Washington as well as assistance with a civilian nuclear program that would have uranium enrichment capacity.
The Palestinians have warned that they must be taken into account in any deal. In interviews, Netanyahu has indicated that he would be willing to make concessions for the Palestinians, though it is unclear what precisely that would constitute. The prime minister’s far-right coalition partners would seemingly make such concessions difficult to execute.
The steps proposed by the Palestinians in a potential deal have included US backing for recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations; the US reopening its consulate in Jerusalem that historically served Palestinians; the scrapping of congressional legislation characterizing the PLO as a terror organization; the transfer of West Bank territory from Israeli to Palestinian control; and the demolition of illegal outposts in the West Bank.
Jacob Magid contributed reporting.