Yemen‘s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani has been widely criticised after he was pictured sitting next to, and smiling at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a conference aimed at isolating Iran.
Al-Yamani was seated next to Netanyahu during the opening session of the Middle East conference in the Polish capital Warsaw. During a part of the session that was closed to the media, the Yemeni minister was reported to have let the Israeli leader use his microphone when his wasn’t working.
US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt called the incident a “light-hearted moment”, but suggested it could be the first step in establishing cooperation between the two countries, which have never had diplomatic relations.
Houthi rebels who are at war with the Yemeni government denounced Yamani for attending the summit, accusing him of attempting to normalise ties with Israel “at the expense of the Ummah’s causes [Global Muslim community], including the Palestinian one”.
“Al-Yamani’s act of sitting next to Netanyahu reflects the national treachery and moral bankruptcy of the Saudi-led government in Yemen,” a statement issued by the Houthis said.
Condemnation also came from other prominent voices in the Middle East with Assaad Taha, an award-winning Egyptian journalist and documentary filmmaker, writing on Twitter: “I swear to God, these people are not from us at all.”
والله هؤلاء ليسوا منا أبدا .. https://t.co/e5vOWPmcUU
— Assaad Taha أسعد طه (@Assaadtaha) February 14, 2019
“Houthis just had a new reason to mock the Yemeni ‘legitimate’ government with these pics after FM Khaled al-Yamani sat next to Netanyahu at the Warsaw Summit,” said Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni journalist.
“These little failures, let alone the big ones, will eventually lead to the defeat of this ill-managed government.”
Houthis just had a new reason to mock the Yemeni "legitimate" government w/ these pics after FM Khaled al-Yamani sat next to Netanyahu at #WarsawSummit
These little failures, let alone the big ones, will eventually lead to the defeat of this ill-managed government. pic.twitter.com/IBfbLs83bR
— Afrah Nasser (@Afrahnasser) February 14, 2019
Netanyahu on Thursday called on Arab states to continue normalising relations with Israel, hailing the meetings with foreign ministers from 10 Arab countries as a “historic turning point”.
“Yesterday was a historic turning point. In a room of some 60 foreign ministers and representatives of dozen of governments, an Israeli prime minister and the foreign ministers of leading Arab countries stood together and spoke with unusual force, clarity and unity against the common threat of the Iranian regime,” he said.
Oman‘s foreign minister also said the coming together of Arab countries and Israel signalled a “new era” for the Middle East.
“The people of the Middle East suffered a lot because they are stuck to the past. This is a new era for the future and for prosperity for every nation,” said Yusuf bin Alawi.
Yamani refused to apologise for the incident but took to Twitter to say that Yemen’s “position on the Palestinian cause, people and leaders is unchangeable and nonnegotiable”.
Pointing out reactions to the photograph, he added that there were efforts to portray the situation differently based on political motivations.
According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, about 60 countries had confirmed their participation in the event, including the Arab countries: Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia.
Turkey, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Iran did not attend.