In a first, Israeli delegation attends UNESCO meeting in Saudi Arabia

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A plaque used to reserve the seat of the delegation from Israel seen during the UNESCO Extended 45th session of the World Heritage Committee at the al-Murabba Palace in Riyadh on September 11, 2023. — AFP
A plaque used to reserve the seat of the delegation from Israel seen during the UNESCO Extended 45th session of the World Heritage Committee at the al-Murabba Palace in Riyadh on September 11, 2023. — AFP 
  • US pressing Saudi Arabia to sign a normalisation deal with Israel
  • Delegation led by Israel Antiquities Authority chief visits kingdom.
  • Visit may indicate progress in US-Saudi-Israeli deal talks.

An Israeli delegation on Monday attended an international UNESCO meeting in Riyadh in yet another indication that Saudi Arabia is warming up to Israel as Washington pushes for a complete normalisation of relations.

A Reuters witness reported seeing three Israeli officials seated in Israel’s chairs during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO.

Israel’s ambassador to UN organisations in Paris and the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for international organisations were also part of the delegation, which was headed by the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority chief Eli Escusido.

Saudi Arabia pledged to permit the Israeli delegation to enter the kingdom as one of the requirements for hosting the international conference.

The subsequent Israeli government’s visit on Monday marks its first official visit to Saudi Arabia.

For a long time, the US has been pressing its traditional ally Saudi Arabia to sign a normalisation deal with Israel, which would be its biggest diplomatic win in the region and following similar agreements with UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, known as the Abraham Accords

However, the country resisted US pressure and linked the move to the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with other demands, Reuters reported.

The Saudi capital of Riyadh is currently hosting the 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee which began on Sunday and will continue through September 25.

The committee oversees the conservation of the sites and chooses which ones get on the World Heritage List.

Israel, in 2017, announced quitting UNESCO, accusing it of bias and diminishing its connection to the Holy Land, a territory roughly corresponding to the modern State of Israel and the Palestinian territories today.

However, Israel remains a party to the World Heritage Convention.

Saudi Arabia’s agreement to host Israeli officials at the conference may indicate progress in talks towards a US-Saudi-Israeli deal, which the Biden administration is spearheading, Haaretz reported.

Although there is a “broad understanding of many of the key elements” for an Israeli-Saudi pathway to normalisation, according to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, no statement regarding a breakthrough is anticipated in the near future.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious idea on Sunday to build a railway and maritime route between Europe and India via Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

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