Israel’s Foreign Minister begins historic UAE trip

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Yair Lapid is set to inaugurate Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi and its consulate in Dubai, as well as sign a pact on economic cooperation, reports Asian Lite News

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday began the first ever official visit by an Israeli minister to the United Arab Emirates, after the two nations normalized ties in September.

Lapid tweeted a picture of himself from inside a plane, with the caption: “Taking off for a historic visit to the UAE.”

Israeli ministers have previously visited the Gulf nation, but Lapid is the most senior Israeli to make the trip, and the first to travel on an official journey.

Since the normalization accord with the UAE was brokered by then US president Donald Trump’s administration, Israel has signed a raft of deals with the UAE, ranging from tourism to aviation and financial services.

The head of mission at the Jewish state’s embassy to the UAE tweeted “30 years as a diplomat, but to see the blue and white (Israeli colours) here at the Abu Dhabi airport, whilst waiting for the minister of foreign affairs to land — is exciting!”

Pic credits Twitter@IsraelMFA

Lapid is scheduled to meet several ministers during his trip, including his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, State Minister for Economic Matters Ahmed Al Sayegh and Culture Minister Noura Al Kaabi. He will also meet with representatives of the Jewish communities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Lapid is set to dedicate the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Israeli Consulate in Dubai. Emirati government officials and Jewish community representatives will attend the events.

In addition, Lapid will visit Israel’s pavilion at the Expo 2020 world exposition, which will begin in October.

“The Israeli delegation will land late morning at Abu Dhabi, and will be received by the minister of economic affairs at the foreign ministry,” the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

In March, a planned official visit by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was canceled due to a “dispute” with Jordan over the use of its airspace, according to Israeli officials.

Netanyahu, replaced as prime minister by Jewish nationalist Naftali Bennett in a coalition government cobbled together by Lapid, had already postponed a February visit to the UAE and Bahrain over coronavirus travel restrictions.

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The normalization accords between Israel and the UAE, as well as Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, have been condemned by the Palestinians as they break with years of Arab League policy which has held that there should be no relations with Israel until it makes peace with the Palestinians.

According to the Jerusalem Post daily, Netanyahu sought prevent his foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi from making an official visit to the UAE, to keep him from stealing the spotlight ahead of March elections.

Then-tourism minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, now science and technology minister, reportedly also had to cancel trips.

Pic credits Twitter@IsraelMFA

In August 2020, former White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat made history flying to Abu Dhabi on an El Al plane from Israel.

That was feted by both sides as a breakthrough in efforts for peace in the Middle East, marked by the El Al jet touching down adorned with the word “peace” in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

The normalisation accords between Israel and the UAE, as well as Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, have been condemned by the Palestinians.

After taking over earlier this month, the new Israeli foreign minister said he had spoken with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and that both agreed to “build relations based on mutual respect and better dialogue.”

Lapid succeeds Gabi Ashkenazi, a former army chief-of-staff, who became chief diplomat in 2020 as part of a power-sharing deal between the Netanyahu camp and opposition parties.

He also vowed that Israel “will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb” and said he was opposed to a revived nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that could see the United States rejoin the accord.

And one month after a deadly 11-day war broke out between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas militants, Lapid reaffirmed that “Israel has every right to defend itself.”

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