Top UAE minister urges strategic shift in Arab-Israel ties; boycott was mistake
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Diplomat: Single state will be unavoidable in 10-15 years

Top UAE minister urges strategic shift in Arab-Israel ties; boycott was mistake

The Arab world’s boycott of Israel decades ago was a ‘very, very wrong decision,’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash speaks to journalists in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash speaks to journalists in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

A senior United Arab Emirates minister on Wednesday called for a “strategic shift” in Israel-Arab ties, saying that Arab world’s decades-old decision to boycott the Jewish state had been a mistake.

“Many, many years ago, when there was an Arab decision not to have contact with Israel, that was a very, very wrong decision, looking back,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the UAE-based newspaper The National in an interview.

“Because clearly, you have to really dissect and divide between having a political issue and keeping your lines of communication open.”

The Arab boycott has complicated efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he argued, speaking to the paper onstage at the Ideas Abu Dhabi forum, which is taking place this week.

Gargash, who has held his current position since 2016, predicted “increased contact between Arab countries and Israel,” including “small bilateral deals and visits by politicians and sports players,” according to the paper.

He also called for a “strategic shift” in Israel-Arab ties, saying it was required for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the absence of a peace agreement, he said, a two-state solution will become impractical in a decade or two. In this case, a unitary state, where Jews and Arabs will have equal rights, would be left as the only realistic possibility.

“The strategic shift needs, actually, for us to progress on the peace front,” he said. “What we are facing, if we continue on the current trajectory, I think the conversation in 15 years’ time will really be about equal rights in one state.

“I know that this conversation is there right now but it’s on the margins. But this conversation will shift because a two-state solution will no longer be feasible because a sort of reduced rump state will no longer be practical,” he said.

“From the perspective of the UAE, we do need to resolve it, because this issue has this tendency of jumping out of the background when it’s quiet to suddenly becoming headline news.”

He went on: “But the current trajectory we are seeing, I think [in] 10 to 15 years, the discussion will be what is the nature of the Israeli state, what are the rights of the Palestinians within that Israeli state, should they be equal citizens, is it sustainable that they are not equal citizens?”

Israel’s relations with some Gulf states have recently seen a drastic improvement, with Israeli officials openly visiting.

In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was welcomed to Oman by the country’s longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

That same month Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev traveled to Abu Dhabi for the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament, and the Israeli national anthem was played for the first time in the Arabian peninsula after Sagi Muki won gold in the under-81 kilogram category.

Miri Regev, center, visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi with UAE officials on October 29, 2018. (Courtesy Chen Kedem Maktoubi)

During that visit, Regev was accompanied by Emirati officials to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the third-largest Muslim house of worship in the world, and a site regularly shown to world leaders visiting the country.

According to a new survey published by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem this week, 42 percent of the public in the Emirates is interested in establishing relations with Israel.

But not everything is rosy in Israel-Gulf ties.

Earlier this month, Gargash slammed Netanyahu for declaring that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” but rather “the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”

This remarks, made in response to criticism of Israel’s Jewish Nation-State law and denigrating comments by Regev about Israeli Arab political parties, were widely reported, leading Gargash to post the following on Twitter: “Not only are PM Netanyahu’s comments that ‘Israel is not a state for all its citizens’ repugnant, but they provide vindication sought by extremists. The road to peace is further undermined by this shameful approach.”

This week, virtually all Arab countries condemned the US administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which they consider to be occupied Syrian territory.

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