Israel’s new foreign minister inaugurated the Jewish state’s embassy in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday and offered an olive branch to other former adversaries, saying: “We’re here to stay.”
Yair Lapid’s two-day visit is the first to the Gulf state by an Israeli cabinet minister since the countries established ties last year under the president Trump-brokered Abraham Accords.
Lapid is due to sign a bilateral agreement on economic cooperation and open an Israeli consulate in Dubai on Wednesday, Reuters is reporting.
“Israel wants peace with its neighbours – with all its neighbours. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home,” Lapid said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Abu Dhabi high-rise office serving as a temporary embassy.
“We’re here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that and to come to talk to us,” he said.
Brought together by shared concerns about Iran and hopes for mutually profitable commercial deals, the UAE and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel last year. Sudan and Morocco have since also moved to establish ties with Tel Aviv.
The regional rapprochement has been deplored by the Palestinians, who want their demands for their own state free of Israeli occupation settled first.
According to a report by the official Palestinian news service Wafa, President Mahmoud Abbas insisted on Tuesday that “colonial powers implanted Israel as a foreign body in this region in order to fragment it and keep it weak”.
The latest agreement will be the 12th between Israel and the UAE, Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, said. Deals signed include projects ranging from tourism to aviation and financial services.
Lapid is also set to visit the site of Expo 2020 Dubai, a world fair opening in October where Israel has built a pavilion.
Lapid’s plane transited through Saudi airspace. Riyadh, although not having normalised relations with Israel itself, last year opened its skies to Israel-UAE flights.
The UAE formally opened its embassy in Israel, temporarily located in the Tel Aviv stock exchange, to little fanfare this month.
Israel’s Abu Dhabi embassy still has only three diplomats and a head of mission, Eitan Na’eh, who has yet to be confirmed as full ambassador. The consulate in Dubai is similarly located in temporary premises.
Lapid was conciliatory toward former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose attempts to organise a trip to the UAE while in office were scotched by Covid-19 restrictions.
Thanking Netanyahu as “the architect of the Abraham Accords”, Lapid said: “This moment is his, no less than it is ours.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Haiat told reporters that the pace of bilateral cooperation between the two countries has been “unprecedented”.
He told reporters, “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.”
Bilateral trade is already expected to have exceeded US$354 million, according to the Israeli foreign ministry.