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Emiratis said angry at Netanyahu for trying to use them in his election campaign

Facing backlash from UAE, Netanyahu denies he’ll visit Abu Dhabi before next week’s vote; premier has canceled trip to Gulf state several times

A man waves a large United Arab Emirates flag outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man waves a large United Arab Emirates flag outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United Arab Emirates will not get involved in Israeli electioneering, an Emirati official said Wednesday, in pointed comments amid fresh speculation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to visit the Gulf state ahead of next week’s elections.

The diplomatic dust-up appears to be the first public spat since relations were forged last year between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem. As the Emiratis voiced anger over the political implications of a possible Netanyahu visit, the premier denied Wednesday he would make the trip days before Israel’s national election. He called the idea “spin,” even as a Likud ministerial colleague said it was indeed a possibility.

Israel and the UAE established ties last year in a deal known as the Abraham Accords, a diplomatic coup for Netanyahu brokered by his staunch ally, former US president Donald Trump. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have since followed suit.

Netanyahu, in power since 2009, has sought to burnish his credentials as Israel’s leading statesman as part of his reelection pitch ahead of March 23 polls.

A UAE visit could have aided that effort.

Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash speaks to journalists in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 18, 2018. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

“From the UAE’s perspective, the purpose of the Abrahamic Accords is to provide a robust strategic foundation to foster peace and prosperity with the State of Israel and in the wider region,” tweeted Anwar Gargash, adviser to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.

“The UAE will not be a part in any internal electioneering in Israel, now or ever,” he said, without elaborating.

The comments from Gargash, who until recently was the face of UAE diplomacy as its minister of state for foreign affairs, were unusually candid for an Emirati official.

They came after Netanyahu last week canceled what would have been a historic visit to the UAE, citing a disagreement with Jordan over the premier crossing its airspace.

The trip to the UAE been planned for several months but postponed on numerous occasions, most recently in February. Netanyahu had originally been set to make the trip in November, then December, and then in January and February, but the pandemic, scheduling issues, and internal political crises led to repeated delays.

The UAE was reportedly reluctant to agree to host him last week, because of concerns that this would be perceived as election interference, and Netanyahu was said to have deployed Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who overcame their reservations.

The UAE had never confirmed the visit scheduled for last week, but said the same day that it was setting up a $10 billion investment fund aimed at strategic sectors in Israel.

The decision, the UAE official news agency WAM said, was made following a “constructive” phone call between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

Israeli officials quoted by the Walla news site said Netanyahu asked the crown prince to release a statement about the possible investment after the cancellation of his trip.

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at a meeting at the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

There was new speculation Wednesday that Netanyahu could be scheduling a visit again, but there was no official comment from either side.

Netanyahu denied in an interview with Army Radio that he would visit the UAE before the elections. “I’m not going to Abu Dhabi before the elections. That’s spin. I don’t know who’s putting that out,” he said.

But a member of his Likud party said it was a possibility. “It’s this week or not at all,” Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told the radio station.

The Israeli prime minister said last week that he had spoken to Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE’s de facto leader, and the two agreed to meet “very soon.”

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