UAE minister says dialogue with Israel is a ‘positive’ phenomenon

Anwar Gargash notes support for talks does not mean agreeing with the Jewish state

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter 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 has described dialogue with Israel as a “positive” phenomenon.

“Dialogue with Israel is a positive thing, but that does not mean we agree with [Israel],” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Wednesday in a meeting with journalists in the Gulf state, according to Russia Today’s Arabic-language news site.

The UAE and Israel do not maintain any diplomatic ties, but the two countries have demonstrated greater openness to each other in the past year. For instance, Culture Minister Miri Regev visited Abu Dhabi in late October 2018 to attend a judo tournament, where Emirati officials not only permitted the sounding of the Israeli national anthem twice in honor of two Israeli gold medalists, but also brought Regev on a tour of the city’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The Gulf state and Israel both consider Iran and its regional proxies as major threats to the Middle East.

Gargash also endorsed the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

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

The Emirati minister’s comments came approximately a month and a half after he said that the Arab world’s historic boycott of 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,” Gargash told the UAE-based newspaper The National in an interview published on March 27. “Because clearly, you have to really dissect and divide between having a political issue and keeping your lines of communication open.”

In that interview, he also called for a “strategic shift” in Israel-Arab ties, saying it was required for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and said that in the absence of an agreement, a two-state solution will become impractical in a decade or two.

At the time, Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee, expressed disbelief at Gargash’s comments.

“This cannot be true. I am sure the minister [was] misquoted. This should be brought to the attention of the minister for correction,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Gargash, who has served as an Emirati minister since 2006, also said that the UAE “has provided support to the different American administrations in their efforts to reach a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian issue,” according to Russia Today.

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, has said the US plans to publicize a plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian following Ramadan, which ends in early June.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will look at the expected American plan with an “open mind,” while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration has boycotted Washington’s peace efforts, has vowed not to consider any US proposal.

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