An Israeli minister visited the United Arab Emirates for the first time in several years Saturday, but was met by protests and a promise from the Emirate that it was not normalizing ties with Jerusalem.
Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom attended a meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency, headquartered in Abu Dhabi.
It was the first state visit by a high-ranking Israeli official since before the 2010 assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room, a killing Israel was blamed for.
Israel does not have diplomatic relations with the UAE; it was the first time Israel sent a delegation to the meeting of IRENA, which was founded in 2009.
Delegations from some 150 countries and 120 NGOs attended the meeting, which is slated to launch a plan for increasing sustainability by 2030, according to an IRENA statement.
“Shalom is representing Israel, which is taking part in the meeting like all the other member states of this international agency,” a member of the Israeli delegation told AFP.
However, Israel’s participation in the assembly reportedly raised some hackles.
Kuwait said it would boycott the meeting because of the presence of an Israeli delegation, the Ynet news outlet reported.
Officials in the UAE were quick to dismiss any chance of detente with Israel.
“The UAE has been able, through a delicate balance, to differentiate between Israel’s membership in IRENA and the normalization of bilateral ties which Israel has been seeking,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammad Gargash wrote on Twitter according to a report by Dubai-based Gulf News.
“The UAE “will not rush into a free normalization with Israel, like some countries did,” he added, according to the report.
Gargash was apparently responding to criticism of Abu Dhabi on social media for allowing Shalom to attend the meeting.
“Most people with malicious intentions do not really care about Israel’s participation in IRENA’s deliberations, but they are motivated by hatred, even if they replace the rhetoric of their attack with another,” he said.
Sources told the outlet that Shalom’s visit was purely to attend the meeting and not to hold bilateral meetings.
Israel has reportedly been seeking to improve ties with Gulf states recently, especially as both share a common interest in thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.
However, the UAE and other Gulf States insist formal ties will only come with adoption of the 2002 Arab Initiative for Israeli Palestinian peace.
A 2009 US diplomatic cable, revealed by Wikileaks in 2010, revealed that Tzipi Livni, then Israel’s foreign minister, enjoyed a good working relationship with her counterpart in the UAE during the Ehud Olmert administration.