After months of delays, Netanyahu receives invitation to visit UAE for world summit

PM, along with Herzog, invited to attend global COP28 climate confab in November; individual visit by Israeli premier to Abu Dhabi was canceled months ago and not yet rescheduled

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) receives an invitation to the COP28 climate summit in November in Dubai from Mohamed Al Khaja, the UAE ambassador to Israel, May 25, 2023 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) receives an invitation to the COP28 climate summit in November in Dubai from Mohamed Al Khaja, the UAE ambassador to Israel, May 25, 2023 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday was formally invited to visit the United Arab Emirates, after months of delays in securing his first official trip to the Gulf country as premier.

The invitation is not for an Israel-specific trip, however, but rather for Netanyahu to attend the COP28 climate summit in Dubai along with dozens of other foreign leaders. The summit will not take place until the end of November.

An invitation was presented to the prime minister by UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja, who also delivered one during a separate meeting with President Isaac Herzog.

Netanyahu had sought to make the UAE his first foreign destination upon returning to the premiership nearly five months ago.

His office announced a trip to Abu Dhabi days after he began his sixth term as prime minister but the UAE canceled amid anger in Abu Dhabi over National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the flashpoint Temple Mount. The far-right cabinet member toured the site again on Sunday, drawing another condemnation from the UAE, along with censures from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the US.

A senior Arab diplomat told The Times of Israel earlier this year that the UAE decision in January to place Netanyahu’s visit on hold also came amid fears that the Israeli premier would use it to publicly threaten Iran while on Emirati soil. Abu Dhabi has been working as of late to ease tensions with Tehran and has sought to balance its nascent relationship with Jerusalem with its complex dealings with the Islamic Republic.

President Isaac Herzog (R) receives an invitation to the COP28 climate summit in November in Dubai from Mohamed Al Khaja, the UAE ambassador to Israel, May 25, 2023 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO))

Netanyahu as prime minister made several visits to the UAE in the years leading up to the Abraham Accords normalization deals Israel signed with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020, but none of those were public.

He sought to arrange a formal visit in early 2021 after the normalization deal with the UAE was signed, but that effort ran into obstacles too, as the UAE did not want to be seen as interfering in Israeli politics by hosting Netanyahu shortly before a Knesset election. Another delay was caused by Jordan withholding approval of Netanyahu’s flight path over the Hashemite kingdom amid a dispute over the Jordanian crown prince’s planned visit to the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu has spoken in recent months with MBZ by phone, though. The Emirati leader called Netanyahu in January to congratulate him after the swearing-in of Israel’s 37th government. The two also spoke in April to exchange good wishes for Ramadan and Passover.

Herzog visited the UAE in December to meet with MBZ. He also flew to Dubai in January 2022 to attend Israel national day at the Expo 2020 Dubai.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP28, will be held at Dubai’s Expo City from November 30 through December 12. According to the UAE, some 70,000 officials and activists are expected to fly to the Gulf state for the summit. Among the other foreign leaders who received an invitation this week was Syrian President Bashar Assad, who the Arab League agreed to reintegrate after he withstood a bloody civil war in his country.

President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan smiles while posing for a photo prior to his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, October 11, 2022. (Pavel Bednyakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

An Emirati press release said the conference would aim for a “clear roadmap to accelerate progress through a pragmatic global energy transition and a ‘leave no one behind’ approach to inclusive climate action.”

In March, UAE-Israel economic ties took an important step forward as the two sides signed the final, and most important, component of a free trade agreement (albeit without an Emirati minister present).

Days later, the two countries finalized a deal granting mutual recognition to their citizens’ driver’s licenses.

But amid domestic unrest in Israel over proposed judicial reform, violent conflict with Palestinians, and undiplomatic statements by members of Netanyahu’s coalition, senior Emirati officials have avoided visits, and have not invited government ministers to the country until now.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report

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