A senior Emirati politician told a large Jewish gathering on Tuesday that despite their ongoing political disagreements, he did not believe it was wise to isolate or ostracize Israel.
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“Clearly, looking back at different episodes in Arab history in the context of dealing with Israel, we see that negotiations and having lines of communications open will actually yield better results for us and the Israelis, and at the same time, a policy of rhetoric, a policy of stonewalling, a policy of not actually opening these lines of communications has only radicalized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash told the annual Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee.
In a conversation with Jason Isaacson, chief policy and political affairs officer at the Jewish advocacy organization and its chief liaison to the Arab world, Gargash added: “What was possible in 1948 became very difficult to achieve in 1967, what was possible in 1967 became very difficult to achieve in the 80s, and what was possible in the 80s is becoming more and more difficult to achieve today.”
Gargash is the highest-ranking Arab official to address a conference organized by a major Jewish organization. For the past 20 years, the AJC, the oldest Jewish organization in the United States, has brought delegations to the UAE on a regular basis.
During the discussion, the UAE minister expressed his opposition to “any annexation” of the West Bank by Israel and his continued support for a two-state solution. At the same time, he said: “I think we can reach a point where we come to a given Israeli government, and you know Israeli politics is very complicated with many opinions on how to move in the future, and we can say we disagree with you on this, we don’t think it’s a good idea, but on other hand, there are areas like COVID and technology, where we can actually work together.”
Political disagreements, he said, needed to be “addressed rationally” because “we are just not getting anywhere” with the other option of not communicating with Israel.
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Israel and the UAE do not have formal diplomatic relations, but there are many clandestine contacts between the two countries, and Israel has an official representation at a United Nations organization in Abu Dhabi shared concerns over Iran's influence in the region have led to a discrete thaw in ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf in recent years.
In the past month, for the first time in history, two direct flights from Abu Dhabi landed in Israel. They were carrying medical supplies for Palestinians to combat the coronavirus and were coordinated through the United Nations. Gargash cited this as an example of how the UAE could cooperate with Israel despite political differences. “I think we are today for example facing a COVID-19 challenge, and if I am working through the UN with Israel to try and bring support to the Palestinians’ very fragile health service, then why not? Does that really affect my position vis-à-vis issues of the day, such as the proposed annexation?”
The UAE, which is hosting Expo 2021 (originally scheduled to take place in 2020), had invited Israel to participate. Gargash called it a “natural decision,” noting that “when you’re trying to create a region of tolerance, of communicating with each other, a region of the future, of stability and prosperity, you can’t come and send that message and then say ‘i’m not going to invite that single country.’”
Speaking about UAE relations with the United States, Gargash said: “America is our main and most important strategic ally. We want to see an America engaged in the region. When the U.S. is engaged, we are better.”