Israeli Economy Minister Meets Saudi Counterpart in UAE, Hopes to Make History

Israeli Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat met with Saudi Arabia’s Commerce Minister Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi on Monday, during the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi. The two ministers exchanged business cards and discussed the possibility of strengthening economic cooperation between their countries.

The meeting between Barkat and Al-Qasabi was the first of its kind since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, which strained the relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal diplomatic ties with Israel, condemned the Israeli aggression and called for a ceasefire and a two-state solution.

However, the meeting also reflected the growing ties between Israel and some Gulf states, especially the United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords. The UAE hosted the WTO conference, which was attended by representatives from 164 countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Barkat, who is a former mayor of Jerusalem and a close ally of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, expressed his optimism about the future of the region, saying, “Israel is interested in peace with countries that seek peace, and we can make history together.”1

A Potential for Economic Partnership

Barkat and Al-Qasabi discussed the potential for economic partnership between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are both major players in the Middle East and have complementary strengths and interests. Israel is a leader in innovation, technology, and security, while Saudi Arabia is a powerhouse in energy, trade, and investment.

The two ministers agreed to explore the possibilities of cooperation in various fields, such as agriculture, water, health, and tourism. They also expressed their support for the WTO and its role in promoting free trade and global development.

Barkat said that he was impressed by Al-Qasabi’s vision and achievements, and invited him to visit Israel. Al-Qasabi said that he appreciated Barkat’s gesture and hoped to continue the dialogue.

A Challenge for the Peace Process

The meeting between Barkat and Al-Qasabi was a sign of the changing dynamics in the Middle East, where some Arab states have warmed up to Israel, while others have remained hostile or skeptical. The meeting also posed a challenge for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, which has been stalled for years.

Saudi Arabia, which is the custodian of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina, has been a key supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel normalization with the Arab world in exchange for a full withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

However, Saudi Arabia has also faced pressure from the US and its allies to join the Abraham Accords and normalize relations with Israel, which could enhance the regional security and stability against the threats of Iran and its proxies. Saudi Arabia has also shown interest in Israel’s technology and innovation, which could help its economic diversification and modernization.

The meeting between Barkat and Al-Qasabi could be a step towards a possible normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, or at least a pragmatic cooperation on mutual interests. However, it could also complicate the prospects of a lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, who have rejected the Abraham Accords as a betrayal of their rights and aspirations.

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