Saudis deny meeting with Israeli minister at trade conference

Israel’s Economy and Industry minister said he “exchanged phone numbers” with Riyadh’s commerce minister in Abu Dhabi.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Saudi Arabia denied on Monday that its commerce minister had met with Israeli Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat in Abu Dhabi the day before at a World Trade Organization conference.

State news agency SPA stated that the Saudi minister, Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi, was standing next to his Nigerian counterpart when “an unknown individual approached the minister to offer greetings” before the conference began.

Quoting an unnamed official source, the agency added that the man then “identified himself as the minister of economy in the Israeli occupation government.”

Al-Qasabi had not known who Barkat was, said the source, which is why he agreed to shake his hand.

The report added the official’s emphasis on the Saudi government’s “steadfast stance on the Palestinian cause and its support for the resilience of the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression.”

Barkat had publicized a picture of al-Qasabi and himself standing together on Sunday along with a very short clip of the handshake.

His office said in a statement that the two had met “at an event of economy ministers taking place in the capital of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. Minister Barkat and the Saudi minister shook hands and discussed the desire to tighten economic cooperation between the countries and exchanged phone numbers to keep in touch.”

Separately, Barkat said that he had told al-Qasabi, “Israel is interested in peace with peace-loving countries, and we can make history together.”

The Saudi denial came after several Palestinian reports slammed the meeting.

One of the reasons for Hamas’ October 7 invasion of Israel and massacre of 1,200 that sparked the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip was reportedly its fear that Saudi Arabia and Israel were getting close to an agreement on normalizing relations without the insistence on the establishment of a Palestinian state first.

The kingdom has since changed its stance.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal ibn Farhan told a France 24 interviewer last week that the way forward on normalization is by “a ceasefire in Gaza, the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the Strip and a path towards a Palestinian state. Without this, we cannot consider such a thing.”

One of Hamas’ key demands in any hostage deal is just such an Israeli withdrawal. This is a demand that Prime Minister Netanyahu has called “delusional.”

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Netanyahu pointing out that Israel’s security depends on it first completing the job of utterly destroying Hamas’ military capabilities and then maintaining security control over the Strip until its residents are deradicalized.

This is a process that could take years.