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Saudi Arabia: direct Hajj flights from Israel proposed to ease Riyadh into normalised relations  

Worshippers begin the Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah, Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2022 [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency]
Worshippers begin the Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah, Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2022 [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency]

Direct Hajj flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia are just one item under consideration for talks brokered by the US ahead of President Joe Biden's trip to the Middle East next month. The aim of the discussions, which have been under way for some weeks, is to ease Riyadh into normalised relations with the occupation state.

The Biden team is said to be frantic about making the trip a success. Having vowed to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah state" and holding Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman responsible for the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Biden is acutely aware of the need to justify his controversial U-turn. Analysts say that granting Israel the prize of normalisation with Saudi Arabia will go a long way towards helping the beleaguered president to do just that.

"It's clear that the Saudi-Israel dimension is integral to the trip," David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is reported as saying in the Financial Times. "And it provides the president with a certain prism by which to say he is making the trip."

Direct flights for Muslim pilgrims from Israel to Saudi Arabia is an easily achievable proposal, and the Biden team believe it is something which could be broached during discussions without much resistance from Riyadh. Palestinian citizens of Israel are currently required to fly to Saudi Arabia via Amman in Jordan if they are going for the pilgrimage. The only previous option had been a 1,000 mile journey by road.

However, using such flights as a way of building bridges between Riyadh and Tel-Aviv and opening Saudi Arabia to the prospect of full normalisation ignores the plight of the Palestinians. This will be seen as a major coup for the apartheid state.

Another possibility that the Biden team have set their eyes on is the transfer of two strategic islands in the Straits of Tiran from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, a move which needs Israel's approval under its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Washington believes that finalising an agreement could build trust between the parties and create an opening for warmer relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh led the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which offered Israel a comprehensive formula for peace based on international norms. In exchange for Israel's complete withdrawal from all territories occupied during the June 1967 Six Day War, the Arab states offered full normalisation of diplomatic ties with the occupation state and recognition of its right to exist in peace and security in the region. The initiative suffered a major blow when Israel refused to end its illegal military occupation.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that he would make Arab countries normalise ties with Israel under the status quo, meaning under terms favourable to the occupation state, without handing any territory back or allowing statehood for the Palestinians. The arrival of former US President Donald Trump in the White House in January 2017 opened the way for turning what were once Israeli far-right fantasies into reality.

READ: Saudi Arabia outsourced new Hajj system Motawif to company with ties to India's extremist government, report reveals

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