Rabbi hints at new dawn in Israel-Saudi relations


A former Israeli minister has said that the day is approaching when he will be able to visit to Riyadh using his Israeli passport.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, who was part of an Israeli group that met a high-level Saudi delegation in Ramallah at the end of last month, said during a briefing organised by think tank Bicom: “That day could be much sooner than you dream about.”

The rabbi said his meeting with the Saudis focused on the religious dimension to any diplomatic processes between Israel and the Arab world.

Rabbi Melchior, who is the current Chief Rabbi of Norway and a veteran interfaith activist, said: “Religious peace is a way of using another language other than the secular language of the Arab peace plan… religious peace is a way of including those Mullahs who are not yet part of this thinking.”

Responding to the accusation that Saudi Arabia has a record of promoting religious extremism and hatred of Israel around the world, he said: “We’re trying to go ahead with the positive side of this. Today there is a big part of the Sunni world — and also the Shia world — who want to be part of the world. Saudi Arabia is investing a lot in getting the Israelis to adopt the Arab peace plan, at least as a basis for negotiations.”

The rabbi said he had met Saudi cabinet ministers and some of the country’s religious leaders in recent years, including some “public encounters and interviews by leading Saudi newsreels”, which he described as “sensational in itself”.

Rabbi Melchior said that it has become increasingly clear over the years that religious dialogue must be part of any diplomatic process.

He said: “I think that everybody has seen in that the last 23 years since Oslo, peace has failed and it has failed because [religious] identities have been excluded.”

During the visit two weeks ago, the Saudi delegation, headed by former general Anwar Majed Eshki, also met the Israeli Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold in Jerusalem. The trip prompted Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to denounce the “disaster which allows the Saudis to make peace with Israel”.

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