Communications Minister Ayoub Kara is reportedly working to persuade Saudi Arabia to allow direct flights from Tel Aviv for Israeli Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Although there are no formal ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Kara hopes that the changing realities in the Middle East, and US-sponsored regional negotiations will change that, the Bloomberg news site reported on Wednesday.
Thousands of Israelis who make the journey to the holy site annually are faced with a bus journey across Jordan and Saudi Arabia of 1,350 kilometers (850 miles). A limited number of pilgrims are permitted to fly from Ben-Gurion airport during Ramadan, but they must fly to Jordan first, before continuing on to Saudi Arabia.
Kara said he has spoken to officials in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries, and claimed that they are “ready to do it, but it’s very sensitive and it’s still a matter of negotiation.”
“Reality has changed,” Kara said. “This is a good time to make the request, and I’m working hard on it.”
Since Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israeli passports, Kara is also discussing the possibility of the Saudis issuing temporary travel documents for the pilgrims.
When US President Donald Trump visited Israel in May, his plane was believed to be the first to fly directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv. The other planes accompanying him had to detour to Cyprus and then fly on to Israel.
In the past few months, Israeli officials have hinted at a desire for Saudi Arabia to play a role in a regional Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and the US is reportedly also pushing for Riyadh to be involved.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said in February that he is optimistic that Arabs and Israelis can reach a peace deal in 2017.