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February 17, 2020

Jewish group visits Saudi Arabia, meets senior officials

Top Story

February 17, 2020

RIYADH: A US Jewish umbrella group sent a delegation on an official visit to Saudi Arabia this week, Israeli media reported, adding that the trip was believed to be the first since 1993.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations sent representatives to the kingdom on a four-day visit that began on Monday and included meetings with senior Saudi officials, foreign media reported.

The delegation of the Jewish umbrella body also met Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League who recently led a delegation to Auschwitz and is seen as close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Presidents Conference was set up in the 1950s as a unified body representing the voices of major US Jewish groups on foreign policy issues. Its members, however, are split on issues relating to Israel's illegal settlement policy and close relations with Donald Trump.

It is believed that their visit to Saudi Arabia, however, received the blessing of both the US president and Netanyahu.

The visit came as Riyadh continues to deny normalisation with Israel, dismissing reports that its crown prince had plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"There is no meeting planned between Saudi Arabia and Israel," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told state-owned Al Arabiya English on Thursday.

"Saudi Arabia's policy has been very clear since the beginning of this conflict. There are no relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and the kingdom stands firmly behind Palestine,” he added. Like most Arab countries, Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel. But the Gulf Arab monarchies, which share Israel’s enmity towards Iran, have made a number of recent moves hinting at warmer ties with the Jewish state.

However in late January, Prince Faisal told US TV channel CNN that Israeli citizens were not allowed to come to Saudi Arabia, after the Jewish state said it had given its citizens the green light to visit. Saudi Arabia said last month it “appreciates” President Donald Trump’s efforts on a Middle East “peace plan”, which has been bitterly rejected by the Palestinians. When asked about Netanyahu’s meeting earlier this month with Sudanese leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Prince Faisal said: “Sudan is a sovereign nation. They can assess their own sovereign interests.” The Palestine Liberation Organisation called the meeting “a stab in the back of the Palestinian people”.