Israel's U.S. Envoy Shares Dinner Table With UAE Counterpart in Rare Sign of Warming Ties

The two ambassadors sat next to each other at the annual dinner of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington in a uncommon joint public appearance

The annual dinner of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington, October 11, 2018.
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON - In a sign of the warming ties between Israel and some of the Arab Gulf states, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer shared a table on Wednesday at a public event with his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates.

Dermer and UAE Ambassador Yousef al Otaiba sat together at the annual dinner of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington. It is rare for officials from Arab states that don’t have formal ties with Israel to be seen in public with Israeli officials. The two were seen talking to each other during the event. Another diplomat seated at the same table was Egyptian ambassador to Washington Yasser Reda.

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Otaiba and Dermer are both considered among the most influential ambassadors in Washington, especially since Donald Trump became president. Both enjoy close relationships with senior officials in Trump’s administration, among them the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Their two governments share a common hostility toward Iran and its proxies in the Middle East. 

Earlier this year, Otaiba discussed his country’s approach toward Israel and the Palestinians in an interview with The Atlantic. “I think, on the Palestinian issue, there is definitely an opportunity that presents itself in a version of the Arab peace initiative,” he said. “We need to address Palestine because it’s this one, brooding tumor that’s been sitting there for 60 years, and it allows Iran to kind of come in, and say “I’m the defender of Palestine,” and groups like Hamas to exist, and Hezbollah. What’s the argument for Hezbollah existing after there’s a Palestinian state?”

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In March it was reported that Otaiba shared a dinner table with Prime Minister Netanyahu during the premier’s visit to Washington.

The encounter took place at a restaurant in Georgetown that the two men  visited separately, according to a report by the Associated Press. Otaiba was having dinner with a senior Trump administration official and the ambassador of Bahrain to the U.S., when the group heard that Netanyahu was also having dinner in another part of the restaurant. They invited Netanyahu to join their table for a short discussion. Unlike the event Wednesday night, however, that encounter was not a pre-planned public event.