A group of Israeli Muslims invited to a United Nations tourism event to honor their picturesque mountain village was unexpectedly blocked from attending by host Saudi Arabia, a sign that Israel’s hopes of warming relations with Riyadh may be premature.
The Israeli village of Kfar Kama in the Galilee region was among 32 spots chosen by the UN as the best rural tourism destinations of the year. Winners were picked for their cultural and natural assets, as well as their commitment to economic, social and environmental sustainability.
The UN World Tourism Organization had invited both the villagers and Israeli officials along with those from 22 countries to the two-day event in the Saudi village of AlUla, starting on Sunday. But the Israelis were never issued visas, according to people familiar with the matter. This is despite an appeal from the UN for equal treatment for member states and the Saudis spending billions to become a major player in the tourism industry.
Since Israel established diplomatic ties with a number of Arab states under the 2020 Abraham Accords — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — Saudi Arabia was taking steps in that direction, allowing Israeli planes to fly over its territory. The kingdom has granted Israelis visas for religious or approved business purposes, but on rare visits Israelis often travel on second passports, such as those from Europe or the US.
But after the election of the most right-wing Israeli government in history in November, tensions have flared inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank, where more than 80 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the year. Last Friday, China announced that it had brokered a renewal of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a blow to Israel’s diplomatic agenda.