A delegation of opinion-shapers from several Arab countries made a historic visit to the Knesset on Monday, Israel’s parliament, and discussed the warming ties between the Jewish state and several Arab countries in the Middle East.
Journalists and media personalities from Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, visited the Knesset and met with the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Member of Knesset MK Avi Dichter, who speaks fluent Arabic and has previously headed Israel’s Security Agency.
The journalists are in Israel on the invitation the Foreign Ministry, some coming from Arab countries which have no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
“This visit to Israel is like touring a dreamland,” one member of the delegation told Dichter. “If only we would be able to bring hundreds of people from our countries, so that when they go back they can tell what they saw and felt.”
Dichter told the group that Israel has decided to move forward with contacts in the Arab world, first and foremost with Saudi Arabia.
He also spoke to the group about the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) conduct of paying salaries to terrorists and their families and noted that the sums paid out by the PA amount to more than a billion Shekels a year.
Shai Cohen, the Knesset’s diplomatic adviser, told the delegation that the Knesset is interested in forging ties with parliaments of Arab states.
“We separate between progress on the peace process with the Palestinians and deepening our ties with the moderate Arab world,” he said.
Israel often hosts delegations of opinion-shapers from around the world in an attempt to circumvent the often hostile media and enable the journalists and bloggers to provide a first-hand and unbiased account of their experiences in Israel.
The six opinion shapers toured Jerusalem, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, and will Tel Aviv, Haifa and Nazareth. They are slated to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
The delegation’s positive visit at the Knesset was followed by an extremely negative incident on the Tempe Mount, during which Saudi law student and blogger Mahmoud Saud was attacked by Muslims as he visited the holy site.
Footage of the attack posted on social media showed residents calling him a “traitor,” “animal” and branding him a “Zionist,” as boys approached him and spat in his face. Another video clip showed plastic chairs and sticks being thrown at him as he walked in the market in the Old City. Saud fled the area unharmed.