Netanyahu to make first official trip to UAE, possibly as early as next week

News of upcoming visit comes day after Emirati president called PM to congratulate him on new government

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)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning his first official visit the United Arab Emirates, his office confirmed on Monday.

The visit could take place as early as next week, though the exact dates and itinerary are still being worked out, sources in the premier’s office told The Times of Israel.

The PMO said in a statement that it is in contact with the Emirati government regarding the visit.

On Saturday, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan called Netanyahu to congratulate him after the swearing-in of the government.

“His Highness expressed his aspirations to further strengthen ties between the two countries across all fields, with a particular focus on matters of development, as well as advance the path of partnership and peace forward for the benefit of peoples of the two nations and the broader region,” the official Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

Reuters reported that, separately, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan called his newly inaugurated Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen.

(L-R) UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and US President Donald Trump, wave on the South Lawn of the White House after they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Ties between Israel and the UAE were established two years ago as part of the Abraham Accords.

Netanyahu had been set to visit the UAE in the months after, but the trip was repeatedly delayed due to the pandemic, scheduling issues and internal political crises.

He was finally scheduled to make the trip before the end of his previous stint as prime minister in March 2021, but was forced to cancel when Jordan delayed approving his flight path over the Hashemite kingdom.

In June 2022, then-prime minister Naftali Bennett flew to Abu Dhabi for meetings on Iran, and the UAE Foreign Minister Al Nahyan visited Israel in September to mark the two-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords. He met with then-prime minister Yair Lapid as well as Netanyahu. President Isaac Herzog has also visited the UAE.

There had been concerns that ties between Israel and the Gulf nation could be impacted by the election of Netanyahu’s hardline government.

President Isaac Herzog (left) meets with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Before last year’s election, the UAE warned Netanyahu against including far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in his government, a senior official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

The message was passed along during the meeting in Israel between Netanyahu and bin Zayed. The Emirati foreign minister warned 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 said.

But Abu Dhabi has apparently changed its tune since the right-wing, religious bloc won a majority in the November 1 vote.

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

Last month, UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja met with Smotrich, less than a week after he was photographed warmly greeting Ben Gvir.

Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of extremist rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in the 1980s in both Israel and the US.

Ben Gvir has been convicted on terror charges, though he insists he has moderated in recent years. He was also convicted of incitement to racism in 2007 for holding a sign at a protest reading: “Expel the Arab enemy.”

UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja (L) meets with Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich at the latter’s Knesset office on December 7, 2022. (Courtesy)

Smotrich is the chairman of Religious Zionism and was seen as one of Israel’s most far-right lawmakers before Ben Gvir entered politics last year.

Smotrich has a long history of remarks against Arab Israelis and Palestinians, calling it “natural” for his wife not to want to deliver a baby in the same hospital ward as an Arab woman.

Last year, he lamented that Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion didn’t “finish the job” and kick all Arabs out of the country when it was founded.

Smotrich has long advocated for massively expanding settlements and for annexing large parts of the West Bank without granting equal rights to Palestinians in those areas.

The UAE jumpstarted the Abraham Accords in return for a promise by Netanyahu’s then government not to move ahead with the planned annexation of swaths of the West Bank.

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