Ashkenazi tells UAE paper he hopes Palestinians reengage

Top Emirati diplomat: Peace with Israel will better serve Palestinian cause

Assistant FM says deal will allow UAE to ‘put pressure’ where needed, also hopes for discourse with ‘Palestinian Israelis’; says young Emiratis excited to visit Jewish state

Omar Saif Ghobash, assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy in the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry. (YouTube screenshot)
Omar Saif Ghobash, assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy in the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry. (YouTube screenshot)

A top Emirati diplomat said Monday that the United Arab Emirates’ peace deal with Israel would serve the Palestinian cause far better than if the Gulf nation were to continue to boycott the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, in a rare interview with an Emirati publication, Foreign Minister Gabi Askhenazi praised UAE leadership and called on the Palestinians to learn from the Emirates’ example of normalizing with Israel.

A day ahead of the official signing of the agreement in Washington, Omar Saif Ghobash, assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy in the UAE Foreign Ministry, said that Abu Dhabi would be able to influence Jerusalem as a partner on the Palestinian question, rather than remain on the sidelines.

“Our peace with Israel will serve the Palestinian cause in ways which we cannot predict today,” he told the country’s The National newspaper during an interview streamed live online.

“We as a major economy and as a major player in the Middle East and with our relationship globally, we will be able to stand inside the tent of the Palestinian issue, and actually make statements and put pressure where it concerns Palestinians in favor of the Palestinians,” he said.

“We will better be able to serve the Palestinian cause by having the direct relationship, by having the economic and commercial ties with the Israelis than by standing outside the tent and waiting for history to take its course,” he added.

Ghobash said his country was also looking forward to discourse with Israel’s large Arab population, “to find out what has their experience been. How do they stand on the question of peace. How do they see the question of Judaism and Israel.

“There are many, many Palestinian voices that need to be heard… That will come with time once we have an embassy, once we have a presence there, and once we have Palestinian Israelis come to the UAE as well. It’s going to be a really, really fascinating and exciting time,” he said.

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

Ghobash said he had always looked forward to the arrival of full relations with the Jewish state, “and perhaps like many Emiratis and many Gulf Arabs, this is something that I’ve always wondered about but never really been able to speak about.”

He said it felt that “a huge taboo” had been removed “from the way in which we can look at the Arab world and ourselves as well.”

The diplomat said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of Emiratis, particularly younger people, who had told him “how excited they are, how interested they are in Israel, how they want to learn about the people and the language and how they want to travel there.”

In response to criticism of Abu Dhabi’s decision to normalize ties before the establishment of a Palestinian state, Ghobash asserted that his country had “upended the logic that has dominated Arab discourse for a long time, which was that the Gulf states are a sort of gift to give the Israelis after the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

That approach, he argued, removed any agency from those countries. “We’re basically signaling that that kind of approach is over. We are agents of our own fate. We will fight for our own interests,” he said.

Ashkenazi’s interview with Abu Dhabi-based al-Ittihad newspaper was set to be published Tuesday. In excerpts released early, Ashkenazi praised UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, whom he called “a true leader who leads his people to prosperity and success.”

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at the Wannsee lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

“We appreciate [the prince’s] vision and pioneering role with his courageous decision to enter the history books alongside the world’s leaders in peace,” Ashkenazi said.

“I call on the Palestinian leadership to understand reality, be responsible, play a leadership role similar to the UAE and Bahrain, and return to the negotiating table,” he said.

Ashkenazi also said he was hopeful that the deal with the Emirates will herald a warm peace between peoples rather than cold ties between governments.

“The positive reactions of UAE citizens on social media have filled our hearts with warmth and planted hope within us for security and friendship among peoples,” Askhenazi said.

Some 700 people are reportedly set to attend Tuesday’s ceremony at the White House where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will establish diplomatic relations.

The UAE and Bahrain will be represented at the signing ceremony by their foreign ministers, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, respectively.

Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a joint news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia, June 26, 2019. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The Trump administration was also said to be working to get representatives of additional Arab nations to attend the signing ceremony as a sign of tacit support for the growing normalization trend.

While the texts of the agreements have not yet been released, an Israeli official briefing reporters ahead of the event said that Netanyahu will be signing a “peace treaty” with the UAE and a separate “declaration of peace” with Bahrain.

The former is a treaty with international legal standing, which must be approved by parliament, while the latter is merely a joint statement espousing a commitment to peace.

Discussing the deal with the UAE, the official told reporters, “The difference between this agreement and the ones with Jordan or Egypt is that it does not end a state of war.”

The official declined to reveal whether the agreement would include Israeli commitments regarding the Palestinian issue.

“There’s a lot of sensitivity because we’re talking about four players here, and as such, the details will not be released beforehand,” said the official.

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