Business is at the center of a historic meeting on Monday between Naftali Bennett and United Arab Emirates strongman Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, marking the first official visit of an Israeli prime minister to a Gulf country.
Israel’s prime minister’s spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, posted photos of the two men together, tweeting: “Naftali Bennett is currently meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, at his palace.”
Just a year after the normalization of relations between the two countries, Naftali Bennett arrived in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, on Sunday evening. UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahayane welcomed the head of the Israeli government, saying he was “inspired to be here on the occasion of the Israeli leader’s first official visit”.
On September 15, 2020, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the first Gulf countries to publicly normalize their relations with Israel. Since the signing of these so-called “Abrahamian” agreements, the Emirates and Israel have entered into a number of trade agreements in a variety of sectors ranging from tourism to aviation and financial services.
According to a source in the Israeli delegation in Abu Dhabi, in addition to “meeting with the Crown Prince”, Mr Bennett will meet other officials in the fields of technology, culture and investment.
“Emirates are interested in Mr. Bennett’s experience in high technology and business, as well as Israeli innovation in general,” the source assured.
“Monday’s meetings are expected to strengthen cooperation on a range of issues and primarily focus on trade between the two countries,” he said.
In an interview with the official UAE news agency WAM, the Israeli leader said he expected “our relations to remain good, especially in the economic sphere”, referring to “a new reality” in the region.
“Cooperation in the field of health and food security will be an important part of mutual cooperation,” Naftali Bennett told state media.
– Emirates Conscience –
“Israel, like the emirate, is a regional trade hub. Our cooperation provides unprecedented economic opportunities not only for us, but for more countries as well,” he said.
As for the Emirate, no official statement has been issued and the media has covered the visit very little, with the local and Arab population still hostile to the Hebrew state and in solidarity with the Palestinians.
The Abrahamic Accords broke with decades of Arab consensus rejecting the establishment of official ties without resolving the Palestinian question, beginning with the end of the illegal occupation of its territories by Israel.
However, he paved the way for similar initiatives with Morocco and Sudan in exchange for the political benefits offered to him by the Americans. Saudi Arabia, the first Arab economy, has, however, rejected any recognition of Israel without a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
But official recognition of Israel does not necessarily imply people’s engagement. In emirates like Bahrain, criticism of Israel often lingers on social networks, with public condemnation against governments in these countries being rare, particularly those hostile to freedom of expression.
In May, an Israeli military crackdown of Palestinian protesters in occupied East Jerusalem, followed by airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, momentarily embarrassed the Jewish state’s new Arab allies. But the relationship lasted, even though the public appearances of their honeymoon came to a halt.
Beyond the economy, the Iranian question is part of the general concerns of Israel and its new Gulf partners. On November 11, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain conducted their first joint naval maneuvers with the Jewish state with the aim of “improving our collective maritime security capabilities,” according to the US Navy, the head of the exercise. The Islamic Republic is regularly accused of conducting hostile operations in Gulf waters.
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