Even as the Knesset voted to approve historic normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday night, an unofficial economic delegation of citizens from the Gulf nation was quietly visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
“An Emirati delegation headed by His Excellency Khadim Abdullah Al Dar’i, Vice Chairman and Founding Partner of Al-Dahra Agriculture, visited the State of Israel,” the Emirati official WAM news agency confirmed in a statement on Monday.
On Thursday night, the delegation took advantage of its time in Israel to visit the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
Videos of the delegation’s arrival at the mosque were circulated widely on Palestinian social media. Some Palestinians at the scene called out insults at the Emiratis.
مقطع فيديو متداول على مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي لوفد إماراتي دخل المسجد الأقصى تحت حراسة إسرائيلية يوم أمس الأحد.. شاهدوا كيف أجبرهم المقدسيون على مغادرة المسجد الأقصى.
“Trash, trash!” one could be heard yelling from behind the camera at the receding Emiratis. In another video, a Palestinian told the Gulf delegation to “leave, go on, get out.”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the visit of the Emiratis, calling it “saddening.”
“One ought to enter the gates of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque by way of its owners, rather than through the gates of the occupation,” Shtayyeh said in a statement on Monday.
Al-Dahra Agriculture is a major exporter of animal feed and other essential food commodities, such as flour and rice. Even though Al-Dahra is a state-linked enterprise, the Emirati group that arrived in Jerusalem was not an official government-to-government delegation. Rather, Al-Dar’i and his team arrived at the invitation of Netafim, a major Israeli irrigation technology firm.
A spokesperson for Netafim did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but according to the Emirati press release, Netafim will open a regional office in the UAE where it will collaborate with Al-Dahra.
Members of the delegation also met with Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster, who announced that a memorandum of understanding had been signed between his ministry’s Volcani research institute and the Al-Dahra company.
“The meeting I had this week with Khadim al-Dar’i — a senior member of a company that focuses on food production around the world — was a dream come true for peace-seeking Zionists,” Schuster said in a post on his Facebook page.
According to the Emirati statement, the two institutions will collaborate on “studies on the effects of salinity on agricultural production, particularly its effect on desert agriculture, greenhouses, palm trees and fruit production.”
Al-Dahra also signed a memorandum of “understanding and partnership” with Watergen, an Israeli firm that has developed technology that draws water from open air.
Palestinians have overwhelmingly opposed the recent normalization agreements between Israel and the Gulf states, which they consider an abandonment of the Arab states’ historic insistence that there can be no peace with Israel unless a Palestinian state is established first.
On Tuesday, a senior UAE delegation, including two top cabinet ministers, is expected to arrive in Israel for bilateral talks geared at implementing the normalization agreements with Israel signed in Washington last month.
It will be the first time UAE ministers visit the Jewish state publicly since the two countries announced the normalization of ties on August 13.