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Netanyahu to fly to UAE Thursday for 1st official trip, 12 days before elections

PM set to meet crown prince during long-delayed visit; Abu Dhabi said to have been worried trip could be electoral intervention, but relented

L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House on September 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
L-R: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House on September 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday for a first official visit to the Gulf nation since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, officials confirmed on Wednesday.

Netanyahu will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, media reports said.

Netanyahu has been seen as eager to make the trip before the March 23 elections in order to tout his diplomatic achievements and boost his campaign.

Emirati officials told the Walla news site that there had been concerns the visit would be seen as an intervention in the Israeli elections, but in the end Abu Dhabi agreed to the trip.

Surveys show the prime minister struggling to muster the 61-seat Knesset majority that would enable him to form a coalition, though his rivals also have no clear route to power, and the timing of the trip may bolster Netanyahu’s campaign.

Netanyahu tasked Mossad chief Yossi Cohen with persuading the UAE to agree to the visit, Axios reported, and it was not clear what, if anything, was promised to the Emiratis in return for their consent. “The Emiratis sent signals that they’d rather postpone the visit until after the elections, but Netanyahu and Cohen pressed hard until the Emiratis agreed,” Axios said.

US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The trip by Netanyahu will be his first official visit since the establishment of official diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last year.

The trip has been planned for several months but postponed on numerous occasions, the last time being in February. He had originally been set to make the trip in November, then December, and then in January, but the pandemic, scheduling issues, and internal political crises led him to postpone repeatedly.

The Prime Minister’s Office said last month that the trip would be indefinitely postponed due to the closing down of air travel to and from Israel as part of a national lockdown aimed at preventing coronavirus infections arriving from abroad.

UAE delegates wave to the departing El Al plane at the end of Israel-UAE normalization talks in Abu Dhabi, September 1, 2020. (El Al Spokesperson’s Office)

The trip is expected to be a celebration of Israel’s normalization deals as well as a move to boost Netanyahu’s diplomatic credentials ahead of elections. Netanyahu may also hope to use the visit to consolidate a campaign against a US return to the Iran nuclear deal.

The UAE was the first country to agree to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state under the Abraham Accords, a pact brokered by the United States.

Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have subsequently joined the accords.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-NahyanAbraham and Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, stand on the Blue Room Balcony during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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

Last week, President Reuven Rivlin formally received the first-ever ambassador to Israel from the UAE.

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