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Saudi Arabia, Israel may allow commercial airline flights

Israel will work with Saudi Arabia to offer direct flights to Muslim citizens who will make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca next month, the foreign ministry in Jerusalem said on Monday.

Israel said it is continuing work on an agreement, a historic moment for both nations.  Saudi Arabia’s cooperation would be another step towards normalization between nations.

Secretary of State Eli Cohen said earlier this month that Israel had made a formal request to operate the new flights and was awaiting a response from Saudi Arabia.

Israel’s top diplomat also said this weekend that normalization with Saudi Arabia could come within six months. Negotiations for normalization between Israel and the Gulf Kingdom began under former President Donald Trump after a record five similar agreements were reached.

Today, Israelis who make the annual pilgrimage must travel through a third country, such as Jordan, which is expensive both in and out. About 18% of the Israeli population is Muslim. Saudi officials last year predicted stated such flights were possible after allowing Israeli airliners to fly over its territory beginning in the summer of 2022.

Israeli officials suggested confirmation could be obtained at 11 next month, just before the start of the pilgrimage.

The Hajj, scheduled to be held from June 26 to July 1 this year, is open to all Muslims who are physically and financially able to leave their homes and provide for their families while Hajj. It is a one-time duty for a Muslim adherent, supposedly following the path traversed by Muhammad some 1,400 years ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his hopes of reaching a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, which he said would be a “leap” for peace in the region, effectively ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has stated Israel has a right its ancestral homeland but that Arabs in the West Bank also need a land of their own. “There are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” Prince Mohammed stated in 2018.

–Dwight Widaman

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