The United Arab Emirates can work with Israel on some areas, including fighting the new coronavirus and on technology, while still having political differences with the state, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Addressing a conference of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) advocacy group, minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said communication with Israel was important and would yield better results than other routes taken in the past.
His question and answer session, described as “historic” by the AJC, occurred days after another senior official made a rare appeal to the Israeli public by having an article published in Hebrew in Israel’s leading newspaper. The official said Israel cannot expect to normalise relations with the Arab world if it annexes land in the occupied West Bank.
“Can I have a political disagreement with Israel but at the same time try and bridge other areas of the relationship? I think I can and I think this is fundamentally where we are,” said Gargash, who has previously said the Arab decision not to have contact with Israel was wrong.
He added that cooperation on the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic does not affect the UAE’s opposition to the proposed annexation or other political issues.
Israel has no diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab countries, but common concerns over Iran’s regional influence have led to a limited thaw in ties. In May, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad made the first known flight by a UAE carrier to Israel, carrying coronavirus-related aid for the Palestinians.
Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states that have peace deals with Israel.
The Israeli government intends to begin debating on July 1 the annexation plan, which would apply Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
In the newspaper article, the UAE’s ambassador to Washington said annexation would upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the UAE.
The Jewish community in the UAE has recently taken on a more public profile. A new kosher food delivery service was covered in national newspapers, and a group called the Jewish Community of the UAE opened a Twitter account in late May.
The group released a video, shared on Twitter by the UAE ambassador to London, featuring a Hebrew prayer for the UAE leadership.
“We want to see a region that is more stable. A region that can resolve its issues over a negotiating table,” Gargash said.
By Lisa Barrington, Alexander Cornwell