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‘Feels a lot like Dubai’: New UAE ambassador ends preliminary Israel visit

Mohammad Al Khajah thanks Tel Aviv for ‘warm greeting,’ promises to return soon after meeting leaders, scouting out location for embassy

The UAE's first ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on March 1, 2021. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
The UAE's first ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on March 1, 2021. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

The United Arab Emirates’ first ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, completed his preliminary visit to Israel Friday after meeting with the country’s top leadership and scouting out suitable locations for the embassy and his home.

“Thanks for the warm greeting Tel Aviv-Yafo,” Al Khaja tweeted. “Feels a lot like Abu Dhabi and Dubai — dynamic and diverse cities set along the water.

“Looking forward to running and biking along the Tayelet when I’m back,” he said, using the Hebrew word for Tel Aviv’s promenade. “See you again soon.”

He also tweeted the message in Hebrew.

Al Khaja is slated to return at a later date on a more permanent basis.

Al Khajah arrived in Israel on Monday and presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin. He also met with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. On Tuesday he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told him: “We are changing the Middle East, we are changing the world.”

The UAE last year agreed 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 later normalized ties as well.

The agreements broke with the longstanding Arab idea that there should be no normalization with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Israel opened its UAE embassy in January, with veteran diplomat Eitan Naeh heading the Abu Dhabi mission.

Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, the UAE’s first ambassador to Israel (right), meets in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 23, 2021 with Eitan Naeh, Head of Mission of the State of Israel to the UAE (via Twitter)

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 for the visit 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 carriers arriving from abroad.

AFP contributed to this report.

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