TEL AVIV – A delegation of 55 major U.S. Jewish leaders traveled to Saudi Arabia last week in what was hailed as a “big step forward” in the kingdom’s warming ties with Israel.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations delegation was the first such visit to Saudi Arabia by an American Jewish organization since 1993, when an American Jewish Congress delegation arrived in the kingdom to endorse the Oslo agreements.
“We just came back from a very important trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was the first such trip we have had to the kingdom and we feel it was very productive. Very encouraging,” said Conference of Presidents chairman Arthur Stark in a press conference in Jerusalem alongside executive vice president Malcolm Hoenlein and CEO William Daroff.
Members of the delegation held meetings with senior Saudi officials as well as with Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, a close aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“We had an open dialogue. We met with high-level officials and raised our concerns, they raised their concerns, and we firmly believe that this a step in a long and productive relationship,” Stark said, noting that the talks, which discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions and combating terrorism in the region, were off record.
“We’ve been engaging extensively with Gulf states over the course of a number of years. I think that this is a big step forward in it,” he said, adding that “it mirrors other visits that we have had with Gulf states where the embrace of Israel is clearly already there.”
Hoenlein would not directly answer whether the visit signified a tacit acceptance of President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled peace plan.
“This week Secretary Pompeo will be in Saudi Arabia. You can read the public statements of Saudi officials regarding the peace plan and other public statements they’ve made. So we are hopeful things will continue to change in a direction that we will be pleased with,” said Hoenlein.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Thursday stressed the kingdom still has no formal relations with Israel.
“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,” bin Farhan told Saudi TV channel Al Arabiya, adding: “There is no meeting planned between Saudi Arabia and Israel.”