The presence of a senior Israeli minister at a renewable energy conference in the United Arab Emirates garnered mixed reactions from other delegates on Sunday.
While the Iranians, who have been continually at odds with Israel over their nuclear program, left a lower-level delegate in position at the International Renewable Energy Agency meeting in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait decided to boycott the event altogether in protest at the presence of Silvan Shalom, the minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water.
“The decision is in line with Kuwait’s commitment to boycott all forms of interaction with the Zionist regime,” Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity and Water said in a statement, according to the Kuwait Times.
Iran’s delegates moved to the back of the hall, but a lower-level official stayed at the front, during a speech delivered by Shalom on Sunday morning, Israel’s Army Radio reported.
Shalom’s trip was the first state visit by a high-ranking Israeli official to the UAE since before the 2010 assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room, a killing for which Israel was blamed.
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 a statement by IRENA.
“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.
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,” the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammad Gargash wrote on Twitter, according to a report by the 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,” said Gargash.
Sources told the outlet that Shalom was only coming to attend the meeting and would not hold bilateral meetings.
Israel has reportedly been seeking to improve ties with the 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 the adoption of the 2002 Arab Initiative for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
A 2009 US diplomatic cable, revealed by WikiLeaks in 2010, noted that Tzipi Livni, then Israel’s foreign minister, enjoyed a good working relationship with her counterpart in the UAE during the Ehud Olmert administration.