Israel has requested the authorities in Saudi Arabia to arrange direct flights for its Muslim Palestinian citizens who want to make the Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place next month, as a potential step towards normalising relations.
Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, said on Wednesday that a request was submitted and “this issue is under discussion.”
“I cannot tell you if there is any progress,” he said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, according to the Reuters news agency. “But I am optimistic that we can advance peace with Saudi Arabia.”
It comes after the centrist leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, said in March that as prime minister last year, he secured Saudi consent for what would be the first direct Hajj flights from Israel.
Muslims from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories currently travel to Makkah through third-party countries, which causes additional costs and inconvenience.
Despite there being no formal diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, there has been growing speculation that Saudi Arabia will follow Gulf states the UAE and Bahrain in normalising ties with the occupation state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced his hopes that the kingdom will be the next Arab state to sign the so-called Abraham Accords. In December last year, he took to Saudi Arabian state television to claim that normalisation was key to peace between Israel and Palestine.
While Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told the American Jewish Committee that “Normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel is only a matter of time.”