UAE foreign minister lands in Israel ahead of meeting with Lapid in Jerusalem

Abdullah Bin Zayed and PM will give joint statements before Emirati top diplomat heads to reception marking 2 years since historic peace pact

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shakes hands with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 29, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Government Press Office via AP)
File: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shakes hands with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 29, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Government Press Office via AP)

The United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan landed in Israel on Wednesday evening ahead of a Thursday meeting with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the official Emirati WAM news agency reported.

The visit marks the two-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the historic peace deal between the countries.

Lapid’s office released a schedule for the joint events late Wednesday. The premier will greet Bin Zayed at 3:30 p.m. in his office before they hold a short private meeting and broader work meeting with their aides. At 4:15 p.m., Lapid and Bin Zayed will give televised statements.

Bin Zayed will also attend an evening reception hosted by UAE envoy Mohamed Al Khajah in honor of the anniversary of the accords, The Times of Israel has learned. President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog will also be in attendance.

Israel’s Channel 12 initially reported the visit last week, indicating that the Emirates’ top diplomat would also meet with President Isaac Herzog, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who continues to deal with issues related to Iran.

Bin Zayed met with Bennett in Abu Dhabi during a snap visit by the then-Israeli premier in June, with the Iran nuclear talks at the top of the agenda.

Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, June 9, 2022 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The now-stalled talks will likely headline Bin Zayed’s meetings Thursday as well.

While Israel and the UAE take slightly different approaches to the issue, with Jerusalem’s position seen as more hawkish, both countries have pressed the US to take a harder line against Iran in the negotiations to revive the nuclear deal. Those talks were believed to have made significant progress last month but have since hit significant roadblocks.

Last month, the European Union, which acts as the mediator of the talks, put forward a “final” draft of the agreement. Iran and the US then took turns responding to the text, with Washington saying last week that Iran’s latest reply was a step “backwards” and European powers expressing doubt in Tehran’s desire to reach an agreement.

Three ongoing probes into Iran’s nuclear activity by the International Atomic Energy Agency are a major sticking point in the talks. Iran has demanded that the IAEA close its investigation into several undeclared nuclear sites, a nonstarter for Western powers.

Illustrative: Photographers and TV cameramen watch a demonstration of a monitoring camera used in Iran during a press conference of Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the current situation in Iran at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 9, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Senior Israeli officials have said in recent days that the Biden administration has told them that there would not be a deal before November’s midterm elections in the US.

The Emirati foreign minister was last in Israel in March for the Negev Summit along with Bahraini, Moroccan, Egyptian and US counterparts, where they agreed to form a regional forum to discuss regional issues. This will be his first bilateral visit.

The UAE and Israel signed a normalization agreement in 2020 as part of the US-backed Abraham Accords. Bahrain and Morocco also normalized ties with Israel as part of the accords.

Trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in 2022 reached $1.4 billion in the first seven months of the year, Israel’s ambassador to the country Amir Hayek revealed last month. This is a significant increase from an already booming previous year when trade between the countries amounted to $1.2 billion.

Despite the positive developments, there have been minor signs of friction in the Israel-UAE relationship. A day after a record number of Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day earlier this summer, the UAE foreign ministry called on Israel to provide “full protection” at the site, and urged respect for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s informal role as custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

The statement also called for an end to “provocative violations” at the Temple Mount and urged “maximum restraint” from Israel to avoid instability.

In addition, plans to build a permanent sanctuary for Dubai’s fast-expanding Jewish congregation have sputtered to a standstill, Jewish leaders say. The new community is running up against hurdles that religious groups long have grappled with in the federation, where the state’s official religion of Islam is closely monitored, non-Muslim practice is controlled, and religious buildings are limited.

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