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Historic opening of the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi

What happened: Yesterday Foreign Minister Yair Lapid became the first Israeli government minister to visit the United Arab Emirates since the signing of the Abraham Accords last year.

  • He formally opened the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi and later met his Emirati counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bin Zayed.
  • Lapid described the embassy’s opening as “an historic moment”, adding, “we are standing here today because we chose. Peace over war. Cooperation over conflict”.
  • Lapid said: “Israel wants peace with its neighbours. With all its neighbours. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We’re here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that and to come talk to us … peace isn’t a compromise. It’s the most definitive choice we can make. Peace isn’t weakness. It includes within it all the strength of the human spirit. War is surrender to all that is bad within us. Peace is the victory of all that is good.”
  • Among the people he thanked and credited with reaching this moment included former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he called “the architect of the Abraham Accords and who worked tirelessly to bring them about. This moment is his, no less than it is ours.” He also thanked former US President Donald Trump and current US President Joe Biden for their “uncompromising support”.
  • UAE Culture Minister Noura Al Kaabi said at the embassy ceremony: “Israel and the UAE have inspired other countries in the region to follow us towards peace. With the opening of this embassy, we can expand cooperation and relations between our two peoples will flourish.”
  • In his meeting with Foreign Minister Zayed, Lapid discussed ways to further enhance Emirati-Israeli relations and to strengthen regional security and stability.
  • The pair also signed an agreement for economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries.
  • In New York yesterday, President Reuven Rivlin continued his farewell tour and met with ambassadors to the UN from around the world. At the beginning of his remarks, the President sent a message to Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, saying: “We must forget the past, once and forever. We were not doomed to live together between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. We were destined to live together. That is our only hope for ending this conflict. The State of Israel is here to stay, in eternity. Let us build trust between the peoples, let us return to talking about the future and let us aim for a brighter and better future for our peoples.”
  • The President said that the Iranian regime is a threat and a danger to the whole world and is not interested in normalcy. “Between peace and war, Teheran made its choice. Teheran chooses death, supports terror, and prefers war over peace. So far, Iran has undermined normal life in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. The current regime in Iran seeks to control the Persian Gulf. And above all they are focused on eliminating the State of Israel. The election of Ebrahim Raisi, an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians, as president demonstrates once again that the Iranian regime has no intention of ending its support for terror and its aggression against its neighbours. Their vision and policy is to counter normalisation. To doom the whole region to endless conflict and misery.”
  • Rivlin added: “The international community has to force Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to protect the Middle East. Letting the Iranians maintain their nuclear programme is irresponsible. Allowing this irresponsible regime to obtain a weapon of mass destruction is a serious and dangerous mistake.”

Context: The opening on the Israeli embassy is seen as important landmark in the ongoing development in relations between Israel and the UAE. Although initiated and signed by the previous government, there is a strong consensus in Israel for supporting all the normalisation agreements.

  • Netanyahu had hoped to be the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE following the peace agreement and did not allow any of his ministers to visit before him, but his trip was postponed on several occasions.
  • The Israel-UAE agreement signed last year included a full diplomatic exchange of embassies and ambassadors as well as cooperation in a variety of spheres, including finance and investment, civil aviation, innovation, trade and economic relations, healthcare, science, technology, and space cooperation for peaceful uses. There is also the potential for enhanced security cooperation facing the shared threat from Iran.
  • The agreement signed yesterday committed both sides to “developing economic relations and free flow of goods and services, as well as cooperation regarding trade fairs, exchanges of experts and knowledge, exchanges of delegations, cooperation in standardisation and regulation, encouraging cooperation of the private sector, encouraging research and development, agro-technologies and more”.
  • In parallel to Israel’s diplomatic activity, in Beirut yesterday Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah hosted the head of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh. The two leaders stressed “the depth of the existing relationship between Hezbollah and Hamas and its key position in this blessed axis and in this decisive battle”.
  • Also yesterday, Bahrain announced the appointment of their first Ambassador to Israel. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued a royal decree appointing Khalid Al Jalahma, who was the director of operations at Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry and was previously deputy chief of mission at Bahrain’s embassy to the US.  The appointment had been approved after a call between Bahraini Foreign Minister Abd al-Latif al-Ziani and former Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Looking ahead: Lapid will today visit Dubai for the ceremonial opening of the Israeli consulate.

  • He will also visit the Israel pavilion within the Expo 2020 exhibition, which will open in October after a one-year delay because of COVID-19.

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