Halting annexation top UAE priority in Israel ‘historic’ deal: UAE official

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Halting the annexation of the West Bank was the United Arab Emirates’ top priority in its “historic” deal with Israel to normalize relations between the two countries, top UAE official Hend al-Otaiba told Israeli news outlet Haaretz on Sunday.

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Annexation of the West Bank has made headlines in recent months as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz had announced they would begin to stake claim on approximately 30 percent of West Bank territory as soon as July 1.

“Annexation was our immediate concern. We felt it would kill the prospects for a two-state solution, which has been the basis of almost all past peace-making efforts and set prospects for regional peace back decades. One of the perennial issues impeding closer ties between the Arab world and Israel has been the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We felt it was time the region demonstrated its collective problem-solving skills,” al-Otaiba, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs director of strategic communication, was quoted as saying.

She also said that “informal relationships with Israel have grown,” and it was just a matter of time until these interactions were formalized.

“I think it’s fair to say that we realize that an approach of no communication with Israel has brought issues to a dead end and began to separate what is political from other areas of cooperation,” al-Otaiba was quoted by Haaretz as saying.

Another “key component of the accord” is the issuance of visas and the establishment of travel between the two countries, according to al-Otaiba, who pointed out Israel was expected to be present at Expo 2020 Dubai, which was rescheduled for 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We expect both air links and reciprocal visas to be established as part of the new relationship between our countries, and we hope to see many Israelis in 2021 for Expo Dubai, where of course Israel has already previously confirmed its participation.”

Despite the agreement, the director did not confirm the establishment of a UAE embassy in Jerusalem.

“We’re bound by international resolutions as well as an Arab position that wants an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” she told Haaretz.

The UAE is aiming for a “more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous Middle East,” which al-Otaiba said can’t “happen without resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

“We believe this accord enhances the ability of all sides to find a lasting and just political solution to the Palestinian issue,” she added.

The UAE hopes to see an end to the “violence and suffering” and hopes for a day “when the Middle East is a model for the rest of the world, not a source of conflict and dead ends.”

The diplomatic agreement between the two countries is known as the Abraham Accord and it is Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab country in 25 years, the last of which was signed between Jordan and Israel and was also mediated by the US.

Israeli and Emirati delegations are expected to meet in the coming weeks to establish bilateral agreements on a range of issues including telecommunications, tourism, and healthcare.


Al Arabiya English's Emily Judd contributed to this report.

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