President Reuven Rivlin on Monday formally received the first-ever ambassador to Israel from the United Arab Emirates, following last year’s historic agreement between the countries to normalize ties.
UAE envoy Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khajah, who arrived in Israel earlier Monday, delivered his credentials to Rivlin at a ceremony in Jerusalem where he was greeted with a musical reception and a red carpet.
Rivlin welcomed Al Khajah in Arabic before continuing his remarks in Hebrew.
“This is a moving ceremony for me, as president of Israel,” Rivlin said, adding that it was personally emotional for him in light of his late father’s love of Arabic and translation of the Quran into Hebrew.
Ties between Israel and the Emirates had developed quietly over a long time, said Rivlin. “We believed that if we waited patiently, the right time would come in which we would be able to take our ties a step forward. To deepen the friendship between us. To make it public.”
The UAE was the first country to agree to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state under the Abraham Accords, a pact brokered by former US president Donald Trump.
Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have subsequently joined the Abraham Accords.
The agreements broke with longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.
“Our countries have a shared ethos: a small country committed to turning arid land into a flourishing garden, against all the odds,” Rivlin said at Monday’s ceremony.
Rivlin said it was “a terrific day, in which the Emirati flag flies alongside the Israeli flag over the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.”
“The entire Israeli nation is moved and welcomes you, gladly,” he added.
“Leaders sign deals, but real peace, lasting peace — [that] peace is made ‘people to people,’ face to face,” said Rivlin, wishing Al Khaja success in his new diplomatic role.
Al Khajah said that he would work to tighten relations between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi and to increase ties in culture, business and education.
“Our two countries have the largest and most important economies in the region,” he said.
“I will make every effort to make these relations ever tighten, to close the gap between the two countries and their people,” he added, noting that Israel and the UAE have collaborated in fighting COVID-19.
“The vision which begins today is one which seeks a more flourishing, more stable future,” Al Khajah said. By partnering with Israel, the United Arab Emirates is offering “a new civilizational approach” that aims “to open the door to new opportunities.”
Al Khajah said, “The two nations have a shared mission: to establish peace and security throughout the region.”
The ambassador arrived to Israel in a private jet and, in keeping with Israel’s Health Ministry policy, immediately underwent a coronavirus test, Hebrew-language media reported.
Al Khajah will spend several days in the country, during which he will reportedly meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials, as well as scout out suitable locations for the embassy and his home.
Earlier Monday, he met in Jerusalem with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who wished him success in his “historic mission.”
Noting the historic nature of his appointment, Al Khajah said he was “very proud and honored to be the first Emirati ambassador to the State of Israel.”
“My mission here is to foster and develop this relationship,” he added. “We hope this will bring peace and prosperity to the people of the Middle East.”
Ashkenazi said the two countries have “an historic opportunity to present a model of a warm and comprehensive peace between countries and nations. The opening of Foreign Ministry missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and the opening of the Emirates’ Embassy in Israel are critical to establishing bilateral relations and promoting peace.”
Israel opened its UAE embassy in January, with veteran diplomat Eitan Naeh heading the Abu Dhabi mission.
“I am happy to see the rapid warming of relations between the countries, and the realization of the vision of peace between cultures and peoples,” Ahkenazi added.
Following the meeting, Al Khajah tweeted that he had arrived in Tel Aviv and spoken with Ashkenazi on “growing bilateral relations,” as well as on enhancing cooperation in various fields.
Al Khajah has opened a Twitter account that posts messages in both English and Hebrew. So far he has gained nearly 30,000 followers. The UAE embassy to Israel also already has a Twitter account, opened this month.
I arrived today in Tel Aviv as the first UAE Ambassador to the State of Israel and met with HE @Gabi_Ashkenazi, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss growing bilateral relations since the signing of the Abraham Accords, as well as enhancing cooperation in various fields pic.twitter.com/JcsWqQ4ht7
— Mohamed Al Khaja (@AmbAlKhaja) March 1, 2021
Although the exchange of embassies has progressed, a visa waiver agreement for travelers between Israel and the UAE has been held up due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu postponed what would have been his first official visit to the UAE since the establishment of official diplomatic relations, and no future date has yet been announced. The Prime Minister’s Office said at the time that the decision to postpone the trip indefinitely was made due to the closing down of air travel to and from Israel, as part of a national lockdown aimed at preventing coronavirus infections arriving from abroad.