The foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Israel were meeting in Berlin on Tuesday for talks that Germany hopes will strengthen the nascent official ties between the two nations and bolster broader Middle East peace efforts in a summit that Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was a “great honor” to host.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan were to meet, along with Maas, behind closed doors at a secluded government guesthouse on the outskirts of the German capital.
While the two have spoken over the phone, this will be the first public meeting between the two senior officials.
In addition to talks, Ashkenazi and Al Nahyan will visit the Holocaust Museum together, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Monday.
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Maas said it was a “great honor that the Israeli and Emirati foreign ministers have chosen Berlin as the location for their historic first meeting” since the two countries agreed to normalize relations in a US-brokered deal.
The agreement, and a similar one between Israel and Bahrain, both signed at a White House ceremony last month, reflects the changing politics of the Middle East, in which shared concerns about archenemy Iran appear to have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians, who reject the deal as a betrayal.
“The most important currency in diplomacy is trust, and I am personally grateful to both of my colleagues for placing this trust in Germany,” Maas said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to be good hosts for the dialogue between the two countries on how to shape their future bilateral relations.”
Maas said the “courageous peace agreement” between the two countries is “the first good news from the Mideast in a long time, and at the same time an opportunity for new movement in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Germany is a strong supporter of Israel, but at the same time has been critical of its settlement policies and also works closely with the Palestinians and is in favor of a Palestinian state as part of a two state solution.
Maas said “courage and trust” are what is needed in the Middle East peace process.
“We must seize this opportunity, and Germany and Europe want to help,” Maas said. “I hope that Berlin can offer a good framework to discuss further steps on this path.”
Last month’s accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain were only the third and fourth such agreements with Arab nations in Israel’s 72-year history. It follows Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
Since the ties were established, senior officials from both countries have spoken on the phone and Israeli and UAE ministries have signed numerous trade agreements.
Last week, Al Nahyan reiterated his country’s “firm demand” for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 border lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Al Nahyan took credit for halting Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank by agreeing to normalize relations with the Jewish state. He expressed the hope that the “historic peace accord” with Jerusalem would lead to the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In a rare interview with an Emirati publication in mid-September, Askhenazi praised the UAE’s leadership and called on the Palestinians to learn from the Emirates’ example in normalizing relations with Israel.
“The UAE plays an important role in building a prosperous future and long-term stability throughout the Middle East, as the courageous steps of the UAE will help bring in regional development and growth, as well as help to better deal with the challenges of the future,” Askhenazi said.
Ashkenazi did not attend the signing of the normalization deal in Washington.