Israel's new foreign minister on Tuesday hailed a "historic moment" during a state visit in the United Arab Emirates for the inauguration of the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi, thanking former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "the architect of the Abraham Accords."
Minister Yair Lapid landed in the UAE for the first high-level trip by an Israeli official since the two countries signed a U.S.-brokered agreement to normalize relations last year.
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"Israel wants peace with its neighbors – with all its neighbors," Lapid said in a speech at the inauguration of the embassy. "We aren't going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We're here to stay, and we call on all the countries in the region to recognize that and to come talk to us."
He added that peace "isn't a compromise. It's the most definitive choice we can make... War is surrender to all that is bad within us; peace is the victory of all that is good."
In his speech, he thanked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, UAE leaders, current and former U.S. presidents, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, "for their uncompromising support," and former Prime Minister Netanyahu, who "worked tirelessly" to secure normalization. "This moment is his just as much as it is ours," Lapid said.
The foreign minister was welcomed in Abu Dhabi by Minister of State Ahmed al-Sayegh, Israel's Foreign Ministry said. "Making history: I am proud to represent the State of Israel in the first official visit to the United Arab Emirates, thank you for the warm welcome," Lapid wrote in Arabic on Twitter.
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According to the Foreign Ministry, Lapid was also set to meet with senior Emirati officials – including Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan – and attend a trade expo where Israeli companies are exhibiting technology.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. fully supports the event for the sake of regional stability and security.
"The United States welcomes the historic opening of the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the visit of Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid," Blinken said in a statement, adding that the opening of the "first Israeli Embassy in a Gulf state are significant for Israel, the UAE, and the broader region."
Israel and the UAE established full diplomatic relations last year under the Trump administration, after the two countries signed the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. The UAE was joined by Bahrain in normalizing ties with Israel, becoming the third and fourth Arab states to sign peace deals with the Jewish state, after Egypt and Jordan.
In the nine months since the two countries signed the normalization agreement at the White House, Israel and the UAE have signed extensive trade and cooperation deals, and bilateral trade is already expected to have exceeded $354 million. More than 200,000 Israeli tourists have traveled to the UAE, the Foreign Ministry said.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had repeatedly scheduled and postponed a visit to Abu Dhabi due to the coronavirus pandemic, but ultimately canceled the visit ahead of the March 23 elections due to a diplomatic spat with neighboring Jordan.
Netanyahu reportedly forbade members of his government from traveling to the UAE until he had a chance to make a state visit, according to Israeli media reports.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat told reporters after Lapid had departed for Abu Dhabi that the pace of bilateral cooperation between the two countries has been “unprecedented.”
“There's been years of under-the-radar relations between Israel and the UAE, and we are now enjoying the fruits of the infrastructure of peace that we've built in the last decades,” Haiat said.
Israel and the UAE had long maintained clandestine security ties before normalizing relations last year due to their shared concerns about regional arch-enemy Iran.
DPA contributed to this report.