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Israeli and Emirati Foreign Ministers meet in Germany

What happened: Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas hosted Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Berlin yesterday.

  • In their joint press conference, Mass referred to the Israeli-Emirate peace agreement as the “first good news from the Mideast in a long time”. He added that “the most important currency in diplomacy is trust… We are doing everything we can to be good hosts for the dialogue between the two countries on how to shape their future bilateral relations”.
  • Ashkenazi said: “The peace accord brings in hope and opportunities for the citizens of the two countries. It also brings in peace in the Middle East and contributes to establishing stability and confronting common challenges… I am very happy for meeting my friend Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed after a lot of dialogues and conversations. I feel we are building up a relationship of friendship and I am certain our coming meetings will cover several other issues.”
  • Following a joint visit to the Holocaust Memorial, Ashkenazi said, “Our presence in this place ushers in a new era for peace, growth, and hope. We will be seeing Emiratis coming in to visit Israel and all holy sites freely. We are also looking forward to seeing our Israeli citizens going to visit the UAE.”
  • Ashkenazi called on the Palestinian leadership to “return to the negotiating table” and seize the new opportunities in the Middle East. He added that “only through direct negotiations can we advance a solution for the conflict. So long as we delay these discussions, we will pass on to the next generations a more difficult and complicated reality.”
  • Sheikh Abdullah said: “The [peace] accord is in line with UAE’s vision for a stable, future-oriented, and moderate region that prioritises youth, co-existence, and peace and prosperity.” The accord “inverts traditional thinking about the means to address the region’s problems and challenges, focusing on pragmatic steps that have tangible outcomes. It also carries with it the promise of building new bridges that will serve to de-escalate existing conflicts and prevent future ones.” He added that both Emirates and Israelis “share a deep concern regarding the threat that terrorism and extremism pose to our countries and the world. We must not compromise with terrorism, as we must also not compromise with extremism and hatred, in all its forms.”
  • Concluding, Sheikh Abdullah said: “Finally, and most importantly, we must re-emphasise today, the return of hope to the Palestinians and Israelis to work towards a two-state solution, and a brighter future for the children of the region.”
  • At the Holocaust memorial Sheikh Abdullah wrote in the visitors’ book in Arabic, “a witness to the fall of a group of human beings who were victims of advocates of extremism and hatred,” and he endorsed, “the noble human values of co-existence, tolerance, acceptance of others and respect of all religions and beliefs.” Adding, “Never Again,” in English.

Context: Israel and the UAE established full diplomatic relations last month, following years of covert contact.

  • The two countries share concerns over Iran’s regional aggression and a desire to cooperate economically, but also to foster a sense of reconciliation and mutual tolerance. The Abraham Accords says both sides will “encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity.”
  • Following the signing of the peace agreements in Washington, President Donald Trump suggested more agreements could soon follow, declaring, “We’ll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly.”
  • It is understood Saudi Arabia is not yet ready to cross the Rubicon, but this week Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former head of Saudi intelligence and a senior member of the Saudi royal family and former ambassador to Washington, gave a scathing interview on Al Arabiya about the Palestinians. He accused Palestinian leaders of betraying their people: “The Palestinian cause is a just cause but its advocates are failures…. there is something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common: they always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price.”  The interview included archival images and footage, noting the contacts between Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis in the 1930s, adding, “we all know what happened to Hitler and Germany.”
  • Whilst head of the Saudi intelligence agency, Prince Bandar is thought to have overseen Saudi Arabia’s unofficial relationship with Israel. He is father of the current Saudi ambassador in London Prince Khalid bin Bandar and Princess Reema bint Bandar in Washington.

Looking forward: UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah emphasised that there are opportunities “to expand our cooperation and engagement in a range of different sectors such as food security, energy, technology, tourism, education, health care and services”.

  • The pair discussed cooperation in the field of energy, cooperation in R&D toward a more stable, integrated and prosperous Middle East.
  • Israel will be an active participant in EXPO 2020 Dubai, delayed to October 2021 due to coronavirus.
  • Ashkenazi said that he was confident that the next meetings would take place in the Foreign Ministry offices in Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.

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