UAE, Bahrain ambassadors skip Foreign Ministry iftar meal for Muslim diplomats

Turkey, Egypt, Morocco send top envoys; amid tensions with new allies, FM Eli Cohen hails Abraham Accords as ‘Israel’s greatest achievement’ in recent years

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks during an iftar meal hosted for diplomats from Muslim countries serving in Israel and local Muslim leaders, April 2, 2023. (Sivan Shachor/GPO)
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks during an iftar meal hosted for diplomats from Muslim countries serving in Israel and local Muslim leaders, April 2, 2023. (Sivan Shachor/GPO)

Against a backdrop of recent signs of frustration from Israel’s Arab partners, the Foreign Ministry hosted an iftar dinner Sunday evening for diplomats from Muslim countries serving in Israel and local Muslim leaders.

The ambassadors from Turkey and Egypt joined Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Director General Ronen Levy to end the day’s Ramadan fast, as did Abderrahim Beyyoudh, head of Morocco’s liaison office in Israel.

Notably, the ambassadors from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), did not attend, sending lower-level diplomats in their place. Jordan’s envoy Ghassan Majali also stayed away from the event.

Foreign Ministry officials insisted that every ambassador who was free to attend did so on Sunday, and that any absences were due to travel or scheduling conflicts. The ministry said that also in attendance Sunday were representatives from the embassies of Albania, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Tanzania, Chad and Azerbaijan, the latter two participating for the first time in the iftar meal at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

The UAE, Bahrain and Morocco normalized ties with Israel as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords. There have been indications since the early days of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 3-month-old government — which includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners of his ruling right-wing Likud party — that the countries are pumping the brakes on the agreements, seemingly avoiding high-profile meetings. No senior Israeli officials have been invited to state visits in the three countries, and they have not sent senior representatives to Israel.

Moreover, the second Israeli-Arab Negev Summit, which was initially meant to take place in Morocco last month, has been delayed until after Ramadan. The inaugural Negev Summit in Sde Boker took place in March 2022, initiated and hosted by then-foreign minister Yair Lapid.

Diplomats from Muslim countries serving in Israel and local Muslim leaders attend an iftar meal hosted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry April 2, 2023. (Sivan Shachor/GPO)

In a speech on Sunday at the iftar meal, Cohen said “Israel’s greatest achievement in recent years” was the signing of the Abraham Accords, which he said proved that “we can act together for the benefit of our people and improve the lives of millions in the region.”

“The Abraham Accords brought about a change in the relationship with the governments and no less, with the people in the Middle East,” said Cohen, adding that trade and tourism with signatories to the US-brokered accords were on the rise, allowing “many to enjoy the fruits of the historic peace.”

Netanyahu has been eager to demonstrate his determination and ability to advance the Abraham Accords — which the Naftali Bennett-Lapid government was unable to do — by visiting the UAE early in his term. A Middle Eastern diplomat told The Times of Israel in February that those plans are on hold until Abu Dhabi sees what unfolds during Ramadan, when tensions can flare.

However, there has been no significant progress expanding the accords and despite Netanyahu repeatedly saying he hoped to clinch a major normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, the influential kingdom has moved further away, instead renewing diplomatic ties with Israel’s arch-foe Iran and moving to restore relations with Syria.

The month-long fasting holiday began on March 23.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Arab partners have publicly condemned comments and actions by ministers in Netanyahu’s government, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who in a speech in Paris last month said the Palestinian people were an “invention,” speaking in front of a map that showed the “Greater Land of Israel,” including Jordan. He also previously called for the West Bank town of Huwara to be “wiped out” following a terror attack there in which two Israeli brothers were killed. The far-right Religious Zionism lawmaker has since apologized for the Huwara remarks.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks in Paris on March 19, 2023. (Ynet screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Smotrich’s remarks particularly inflamed already tense relations with Jordan. The Hashemite kingdom summoned the Israeli envoy in protest, with Amman panning the “reckless incitement and a violation of international norms.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry sought to tamp down the backlash, tweeting that “Israel is committed to the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan” and that “there has been no change in the position of the State of Israel, which recognizes the territorial integrity of the Hashemite Kingdom,” in both Hebrew and English.

National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi later phoned Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi to offer a similar assurance regarding Israel’s commitment to its treaty with Jordan.

On Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah said that Muslims have a “duty to deter Israeli escalation” in Jerusalem.

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