RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry is distancing itself from a recent visit to Israel by a number of Saudi citizens, including an outspoken former military general.
The Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper on Wednesday quoted an unnamed ministry official as saying the rare public engagement “does not reflect the views of the Saudi government.”
The official referred to Israel as “the occupied territories.”
Saudi Arabia and Israel have no official relations and the kingdom prohibits its citizens from traveling to Israel. It also does not grant visas to Israelis.
However, Saudi government permission was likely necessary for Anwar Eshki and the delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen to make the visit.
While in Jerusalem, Eshki met with a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official and a group of Knesset members.
On Saturday, Eshki met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and several Knesset members from the opposition.
The meetings with Gold and Mordechai reportedly did not take place at official Israeli government facilities but at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Knesset members Issawi Frej and Michal Rozin (Meretz) and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), who took part in the meetings, said the Saudis were eager to generate Israeli discourse on the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Saudi delegation also toured the West Bank city of Ramallah and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as other Palestinian officials.
Eshki has met with the Foreign Ministry’s Gold before. In 2015 the two shared a stage and shook hands in Washington as they made back-to-back addresses to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank. Both espoused Israeli-Saudi peace and identified Iran as the chief threat to regional stability.
Eshki also told Israel’s Channel 10 News at the time that he and Gold had sat down together “to call for peace in the Middle East.” He said “Saudis and Israelis could work together when Israel announces that it accepts the Arab Initiative.”