In Saudi Delegation’s Visit to Jerusalem, Signs of Broader Change

Even amid the political conventions in Philadelphia and Cleveland, church attacks,knifings, and other incidents around the world, there was strikingly little coverage and attention outside of Israel to a Saudi delegation’s visit to Jerusalem on Friday–a highly notable event for the traditionally risk-averse Saudis. No current Saudi officials were included, but the visit could not have happened without high-level official approval.

This is not necessarily a harbinger of strengthening ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. But it indicates how Saudi Arabia and the region are changing.

The Saudi delegation was led by a retired general, Anwar Eshki (now chairman of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, a think tank in Jeddah) and included academics and business executives. They met with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and attended meetings with Israeli Knesset members. Perhaps most significant, the Saudis met with Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s coordinator of activities for its territories.

Mr. Gold and Mr. Eshki have met before. And non-governmental ​meetings between Israelis and Saudis in academic and policy forums are fairly common. Prince Turki bin Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. published a column in a leading Israeli newspaper in 2014 arguing for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. I participated in a panel in Washington that year that included Prince Turki and Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad official. In the 1990s, during the heyday of the peace process, Israelis and Saudis met frequently in the course of multilateral forums.

But publicly announced meetings​ in Jerusalem at the King David Hotel are​ ​different. The nominal purpose was discussion of​ the 2002 Arab initiative, developed by then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who later became king.​ ​

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