UAE warns Netanyahu that including far-right in government could harm ties

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Tel Aviv on September 16, 2022. (Benjamin Netanyahu/Twitter)
Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Tel Aviv on September 16, 2022. (Benjamin Netanyahu/Twitter)

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed warned opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu against including far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in his government if the Likud chief wins next week’s election, a senior official familiar with the matter tells The Times of Israel.

The message was passed along during a meeting that took place last month when bin Zayed was visiting Israel, the official says, confirming a report in the Axios news site.

Bin Zayed cautioned that the inclusion of such extremist lawmakers in Netanyahu’s government risked upending ties with the UAE in addition to the Abraham Accords more broadly, the official says.

The Israeli opposition leader assured the top Emirati diplomat that he was handling the matter, without elaborating further, the official says, clarifying that the meeting between bin Zayed and Netanyahu was still a warm one.

Bin Zayed is not the first Israel ally to warn Netanyahu against partnering with Smotrich and Ben Gvir’s Religious Zionism party, but those concerns have largely been coming from more progressive circles.

Netanyahu has not accepted the criticism, though, and he fumed at Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez when he raised the issue last month. He declared yesterday that he would not “bow [his] head” to US lawmakers warning him against Ben Gvir and that the far-right lawmaker would indeed be a minister in his government if he wins the November 1 election.

Both sides have declined to comment on last month’s meeting.

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