An apparent step backwards could in fact signal a further move toward normalization between Israel and Saudi-Arabia.
By Yona Schnitzer, TPS
Israeli Muslims could find themselves at least temporarily unable to make the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca after Saudi officials announced Tuesday that from now on, entry to the Kingdom will only be permitted with an official state-issued passport, which includes identification numbers.
The move effectively voids the temporary Jordanian permits that have been issued to Israeli-Arab pilgrims since 1978 in order for them to travel to the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina during the month of Ramadan, circumventing a ban on Israeli citizens entering Saudi-Arabia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
However, speculation has arisen that the move may actually signal a further step toward normalization between Israel and Saudi-Arabia.
An op-ed in the Pan-Arabist London-based website al-Arabi al-Jadid suggested that Israeli Arabs would in fact be allowed to enter the Kingdom with their Israeli passports as part of a series of moves aimed at bringing about full normalization between the two countries as part of President Donald Trump’s Middle East “deal of the century.”
While covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, united by concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional aggression, are more or less an open secret, signs of warming ties between the countries have grown.
In March, Saudi Arabia announced that it would permit Air India to fly over the country’s air space, allowing it to offer direct flights between Tel Aviv and New Delhi. In April, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said in an interview to The Atlantic that the Jewish people “have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland.”
According to a report in Ha’aretz, Israel’s Hajj and Umrah Committee, which organizes the trips to Saudi Arabia, has canceled a pilgrimage planned for December due to the uncertainty surrounding the issue.