Lapid meets UAE foreign minister in Italy, amid hiatus in high-level visits

Questions arise around funding for opposition leader’s flight; no senior Emiratis have been in Israel since Netanyahu came to power

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid (R) meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed in Italy, August 8, 2023. (Courtesy: Yair Lapid's office)
Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid (R) meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed in Italy, August 8, 2023. (Courtesy: Yair Lapid's office)

Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid met with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed in Italy on Tuesday.

According to Lapid’s office, the two discussed bilateral ties and advancing joint projects. They met for three hours.

As foreign minister, Lapid visited Abu Dhabi in June 2021 to officially inaugurate Israel’s embassy in the UAE. He was hosted by bin Zayed on that trip, the first official visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf state.

No senior Emirati officials have been in Israel since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government came to power in late December.

Lapid, along with his wife, is in Italy for vacation this week on a flight paid for by his Yesh Atid party.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Knesset sources say the funded trip was not approved by the ethics committee. Lapid’s office said he received all the necessary approvals.

Netanyahu was due to visit the UAE shortly after returning to office as his first state visit, but the trip was canceled after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem, which Abu Dhabi denounced as a “storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard.”

After meeting for the Negev Summit, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, center, leaves the room after posing for a group photograph, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

In May, Netanyahu was finally invited to visit the UAE, after months of delays in securing his first official trip to the Gulf country as premier.

The invitation is not for an Israel-specific trip, however, but rather for Netanyahu to attend the COP28 climate summit in Dubai along with dozens of other foreign leaders. The summit will not take place until the end of November.

An invitation was presented to the prime minister by UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja, who also delivered one during a separate meeting with President Isaac Herzog.

Bin Zayed visited Jerusalem in September, marking two years since the signing of the Abraham Accords, the US-brokered agreement that normalized ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. Morocco followed suit and normalized relations with Israel soon after.

The Emirati foreign minister was also in Israel in March 2022 for the Negev Summit along with Bahraini, Moroccan, Egyptian and US counterparts, where they agreed to form a regional forum to discuss regional issues. Lapid initiated that forum, which has yet to reconvene.

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