Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could meet with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his planned visit to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, Israeli television reported Wednesday.
The Kan public broadcaster said there were “advanced contacts” on setting up the sit-down as part of Netanyahu’s expected meeting Thursday with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The report, which did not cite a source, didn’t provide further details.
Separately, Channel 13 news reported Netanyahu may meet with his Sudanese counterpart Abdalla Hamdok while in the UAE. The report said Israel is in talks to make the meeting happen, but didn’t give further details.
Netanyahu met last year in Uganda with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council.
The premier will only be at the airport in Abu Dhabi and Thursday’s trip isn’t expected to last more than a few hours, according to Channel 12 news. The network also reported that Defense Minister Benny Gantz was set to meet with the Abu Dhabi crown prince at the UAE arms fair last month before the Israeli delegation’s appearance was canceled over safety concerns.
Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia in November to meet with bin Salman, the first publicly reported meeting between the two. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but clandestine ties have strengthened in recent years, as the two countries have confronted a shared threat in Iran.
The meeting in November fueled frenzied speculation in Israel that a normalization deal might be close, following the US-brokered pacts Israel reached with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. In December, Morocco agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
In the wake of those agreements, Trump officials said a deal with Saudi Arabia is “inevitable,” though Saudi officials have said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must precede recognition of the Jewish state.
Officials said last week the US wants to broker a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but only if Riyadh improves its human rights record. The remarks followed the release of a US intelligence report accusing the Saudi crown prince of green-lighting the murder of Saudi journalist and royal critic Jamal Khashoggi, as part of US President Joe Biden’s desire to “recalibrate” ties with Saudi Arabia.
Last month, Hebrew media reported that senior Israeli and Saudi officials recently held several phone calls to discuss the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.
During the conversations, the Saudis expressed concern over the new US administration and lamented its focus on human rights violations in the kingdom.
According to a report last month, Israel was planning to lobby the Biden administration not to pressure regional allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates on matters related to human rights, fearing that doing so could imperil the Jewish state’s improved ties with some Arab countries and strengthen Iran.
Possible quarantine-free travel between Israel, UAE
Kan also reported Wednesday that Israel and the UAE have begun talks to allow entry to vaccinated travelers from the respective countries without quarantine.
The goal is to waive the quarantine requirement for those vaccinated in April, according to the report.
Currently, only Georgia recognizes Israel’s “Green Pass.” The US does not recognize it and Israelis who travel there must provide a negative virus test and spend time in quarantine.
Agreements over the past month with Greece and Cyprus that would allow “Green Pass” holders to travel between the countries without quarantine or taking virus tests have so far not been formally implemented.
Diplomatic sources told the Ynet news site this week that the European Union, of which both Greece and Cyprus are members, strongly objects to any of its members individually signing agreements on travel for the vaccinated.
Germany in particular is against the idea, according to the report, because it sees the “vaccine passport” system as a form of discrimination against those who do not want to be vaccinated, as well as out of a desire to help boost internal tourism within the European bloc.
On Monday, a senior World Health Organization official said so-called “vaccine passports” for COVID-19 should not be used for international travel at this time because of numerous concerns, including ethical considerations that coronavirus vaccines are not easily available globally.
AFP contributed to this report.