UAE said to shelve plans for Israel-US summit amid anger at PM’s electioneering

Netanyahu’s apparent use of Gulf nation in campaign said to cause Abu Dhabi to halt arrangements for April confab with senior Biden officials and Arab leaders who normalized ties

Illustrative: 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)
Illustrative: 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)

The United Arab Emirates has reportedly suspended plans for a summit at which it was to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, senior US officials and the heads of Arab states that have normalized relations with Israel, amid a diplomatic tiff over the Israeli premier’s attempted use of Abu Dhabi as a stop on the campaign trail.

According to the Thursday report by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, the summit had been set to take place in Abu Dhabi in April but has now been shelved after Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed was angered by what he reportedly perceived as Netanyahu’s endeavor to use the Gulf nation for electioneering.

The plans for a summit had not been previously reported.

Netanyahu had been long planning and repeatedly canceling an official visit to Abu Dhabi, most recently scheduled for last week. His election speeches have touted a UAE $10 billion investment fund aimed at strategic sectors in Israel.

The diplomatic dust-up appears to be the first public spat since relations were forged last year between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion on March 14, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

As the Emiratis voiced anger over the political implications of a possible Netanyahu visit, the premier denied Wednesday he was still seeking to make the trip just days before Israel’s national election next Tuesday. He called the idea “spin,” even as a Likud ministerial colleague said it was indeed a possibility.

Israel and the UAE established ties last year in a deal known as the Abraham Accords, a diplomatic coup for Netanyahu brokered by his staunch ally, former US president Donald Trump. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have since followed suit.

Netanyahu has sought to burnish his credentials as Israel’s leading statesman as part of his reelection pitch ahead of March 23 polls, and a UAE visit could have aided that effort.

But an Emirati official said in pointed comments on Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates would not get involved in Israeli electioneering.

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

“From the UAE’s perspective, the purpose of the Abrahamic Accords is to provide a robust strategic foundation to foster peace and prosperity with the State of Israel and in the wider region,” tweeted Anwar Gargash, adviser to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.

“The UAE will not be a part in any internal electioneering in Israel, now or ever,” he said, without elaborating.

The comments from Gargash, who until recently was the face of UAE diplomacy as its minister of state for foreign affairs, were unusually candid for an Emirati official.

They came after Netanyahu last week canceled what would have been a historic visit to the UAE, citing a disagreement with Jordan over the premier crossing its airspace.

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at a meeting at the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The trip to the UAE been planned for several months but postponed on numerous occasions, most recently in February. Netanyahu had originally been set to make the trip in November, then December, and then in January and February, but the pandemic, scheduling issues, and internal political crises led to repeated delays.

The UAE was reportedly reluctant to agree to host him last week, because of concerns that this would be perceived as election interference, and Netanyahu was said to have deployed Mossad intelligence agency chief Yossi Cohen to persuade them.

Adding further insult to injury, a UAE minister on Tuesday appeared to downplay an earlier announcement on establishing a $10 billion investment fund aimed at strategic sectors in Israel — a plan that was heavily touted by Netanyahu.

Industry and Advanced Technology Minister Sultan Al Jaber said the fund would be “commercially driven and not politically associated,” and was in line with the UAE’s investment policies around the world. The remarks followed Hebrew media reports detailing shock in Abu Dhabi that Netanyahu was campaigning on the fund and telling voters that it would not have come about under a different prime minister.

Al Jaber added in a statement that “that these are very early days,” and that it would take time until the money is invested in Israeli projects.

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