The UAE’s foreign minister sees a “warm peace” between his country and Israel ahead, with the Palestinians winners as well, if they would just “engage.”
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Israel expects to begin direct talks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) starting this week, with officials saying that the peace deal could be finished within a month, Israel Hayom reported Sunday.
Such a quick accord would also please the Trump administration, which played a large role in getting the UAE to agree to normalized relations with the Jewish State, as it would mean that a well-covered signing ceremony could take place in the White House before the U.S. elections in November.
This could well give the president a lift in a race against former vice president Joe Biden that currently has the Democrat challenger ahead in many polls.
A senior Israeli official told the Hebrew daily that the elections are definitely playing a role in the accelerated timeline.
The talks will be overseen by Israel’s National Security Council head Meir Ben Shabbat and the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Alon Ushpiz, a senior diplomat who has served as Israel’s ambassador to India. Ushpiz took up his post in June.
Abu Dhabi has already agreed to having small, professional groups representing both sides, with each group concentrating on a different field, in order to hasten the process. One point that is being pushed hard by the Israelis, said the report, is in the field of tourism.
Jerusalem is asking the UAE to convince Saudi Arabia to open its air space to direct flights from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi. This would be a financial boon to airlines and a significant time-saver for travelers, who currently have to skirt Arab airspace in order to fly eastward from Israel.
The UAE, meanwhile, is looking to cash in especially on Israeli expertise in health and agriculture, UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the Atlantic Council, an American international affairs think tank, in an interview on Thursday.
“We are very much interested in agribusiness, agriculture, food security… in medical, especially certain areas that Israel has done very well with, and even things like telemedicine can start very early, even as you build… the necessary arrangements and so on,” said Dr. Gargash.
“Israel also has a critical advantage in certain areas that we feel we can benefit [from],” he added, specifying Israel’s role in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gargash stressed that normalization of ties with Israel would benefit the UAE in other ways as well, such as the country’s desire to gain in world stature and advance its economy.
“We like to think of ourselves as a dynamic…Arab country that actually wants to break a lot of barriers, because we feel that an exclusivist view of the world through a purely Arab prism will not allow you to play…to your potential,” he said.
He also said that a deal would “open up the geostrategic space,” in a veiled reference to the security challenges the UAE faces with its hostile Iranian neighbor. Israel has reportedly been selling the UAE many kinds of defense systems under the table for years, following the dictum of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Gargash openly acknowledged that the Iranian threat played a role in the UAE’s decision to take this “big risk,” as he called it, saying, “I think the Iranian rhetoric and aggressive regional position over the years has made deals like this possible.”
However, the foreign minister stressed, “this deal is not about Iran” and “normalization was bound to happen,” whether in 2021 or 2022. The UAE grabbed the chance now, he said, in order to help the Palestinians.
“In the 18 years since the Arab Peace Initiative [demanding Israeli withdrawal to its 1949 borders in exchange for ties with the entire Arab world], the biggest threat to a two-state solution has been annexation,” he explained.
Israel agreed to suspend its right to extend its sovereignty over 30 percent of Judea and Samaria, as envisioned in the Trump peace deal, in exchange for an accord with the Gulf state.
Gargash urged the Palestinians to take advantage of the opportunity his country has provided, taking credit for Israel’s delaying its sovereignty move.
Although “there is no timeframe” to the suspension, he said, “We understand that this is a commitment that will give us time. But on the other hand, you need to urge and we all need to urge the Palestinians to engage. It is necessary for them to engage.”
Gargash was very positive overall in his assessment of the outcome of the accord.
“This is going to be a warm peace because we really – unlike Jordan and unlike Egypt, we have not fought a war with Israel. So that is not really a factor here. It’s not part of the, let’s say, national psyche.”