The ruler of the United Arab Emirates issued Saturday a decree formally ending the country's boycott of Israel amid a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the two countries.
The state-run WAM news agency said the move was made on the orders of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the Emirates' leader.
WAM said the new decree allows Israelis and Israeli firms to do business in the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. It also allows for the purchase and trade of Israeli goods.
“The decree of the new law comes within the UAE’s efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel,” WAM said. It lays out “a roadmap toward launching joint cooperation, leading to bilateral relations by stimulating economic growth and promoting technological innovation.”
Already, some Israeli firms had signed deals with Emirati counterparts. But the repeal of the law widens the likelihood of other joint ventures, such as in aviation or in banking and finance.
Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi praised the move in a statement. “UAE's decision to abolish the boycott on Israel is an important step towards peace, which will yield substantial economic and commercial achievements for both people while strengthening the stability in the region,” he said.
Ashkenazi also said “I praise the UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan for this historic decision” and added he encourages other countries to “follow the UAE brave footsteps.” He went on to thank Foreign Ministry officials "for their work behind the scenes for the last two decades" which "laid the diplomatic and economic infrastructure whose fruit we bear today."
- Israel-UAE Normalization Is a Test for Egypt and Jordan
- El Al to Carry First Official Flight From Israel to UAE, Airport Timetable Shows
- Israelis Should Watch Their Step in UAE, It's Easy to Wind Up in Jail, Lawyer Warns
Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis dubbed the move "historic," adding it will "help jumpstart Israeli economy."
Welcoming the UAE's decision to revoke the ban on doing business with Israeli companies and businessmen, Akunis said "it would lead to initial trade of around $500 million. The export and bilateral trade potential is enormous and will make an excellent basis for regional projects that were put on hold in recent years."
Dubai International Airport, home to the long-haul carrier Emirates, has been the world's busiest for international travel for years. The Dubai International Financial Center also hosts major firms who trade in the hours between Asian and European markets.
Emirati firms likely also want to access Israeli technological know-how. Some already had even before the deal — with the cybersecurity firm DarkMatter reportedly hiring Israeli military-trained hackers.
On Monday, the first direct commercial flight by Israel's flagship carrier El Al is expected in Abu Dhabi, carrying U.S. and Israeli officials including President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The decree formally eliminates a 1972 law on the UAE's books since just after the country's formation. That law mirrored the widely held stance by Arab nations at that time that recognition of Israel would only come after the Palestinians had an independent state of their own.
The UAE is becoming the third Arab nation after Egypt and Jordan to currently have diplomatic relations with Israel. However, while widespread public distrust of Israel persists in those nations, the UAE never fought a war against Israel, nor did it have a historic Jewish population.
In recent years, the UAE has held quiet talks with Israel and allowed Israelis with second passports into the country for trade and talks.
Sheikh Khalifa has ruled the UAE since 2004. He suffered a stroke on January 24, 2014, and underwent emergency surgery. He has been rarely seen since in public, though state media typically publishes images of him around Islamic holidays.
Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has served as the UAE's day-to-day ruler since Sheikh Khalifa's stroke. Sheikh Mohammed has focused on increasing the Emirates' military might amid his suspicions of Iran — an enmity shared by Israel.
While Sheikh Khalifa holds the title of president, the UAE is governed by autocratic sheikhs. Abu Dhabi, as the country's oil-rich capital, has grown increasingly powerful since the UAE's founding in 1971 despite each sheikhdom largely governing its own affairs.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held closed-door meetings with Bahrain's royal family and top officials in the United Arab Emirates amid as the Trump administration pushes for more Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel.
Pompeo also traveled to Israel and Sudan on this trip through the Mideast.
Bahrain, a small island nation just off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, has a historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two U.S.-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad himself promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations. That boycott had been in place to offer Palestinians support in their efforts to form an independent state.
In a statement after the meeting, the state-run Bahrain News Agency said King Hamad “stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” The king said that includes a two-state solution for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital — a longtime Arab stance.