UAE official says Arab countries should be more open to Israel

Anwar Gargash says he expects more contact between Arab countries and Israel via bilateral deals and political visits.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash attends a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Foreign Ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh
Anwar Gargash said that relations between Arab states and Israel need to change [File: Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters]

A senior official in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said Arab states made a “very wrong decision” in the past when they had decided to not have formal relations or contact with Israel.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, told Emirati daily The National that relations between Arab states and Israel need to change in order to achieve progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“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 said in unusually candid remarks.

“Because clearly, you have to really dissect and divide between having a political issue and keeping your lines of communication open.”

His comments came after the UAE and other Gulf states criticised US President Donald Trump’s recognition this week of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau occupied from Syria in the 1967 war.

They also followed a visit last month by Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner to Gulf Arab states to seek support for the economic portion of a long-awaited US proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Gulf Arab states host US troops and are important for Washington’s regional defence policy.

‘Strategic shift’

Israel has formal diplomatic relations with only two Arab states, neighbouring Egypt and Jordan.

But an Israeli cabinet minister visited Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque last year and fellow Gulf state Oman hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a surprise trip, the first time an Israeli leader had visited the Sultanate in 22 years.

Israel sees Arab states as its natural allies against regional powerhouse Iran. But many in the Arab world resist following Jordan and Egypt’s lead as long as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory continues.

Gargash said he expected increased contact between Arab countries and Israel through small bilateral deals and visits by politicians and athletic delegations. Israeli athletes won gold in an Abu Dhabi judo competition in October, where its national anthem was played.

“The strategic shift is needed actually for us to progress on the peace front,” Gargash said.

“What we are facing, if we continue on the current trajectory, I think the conversation in 15 years’ time will really be about equal rights in one state,” he added, alluding to a possible fusion of the Israeli and
Palestinian polities in place of the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

He said this conversation was currently on the margins but that that would change.

“A two-state solution will no longer be feasible because a sort of reduced rump (Palestinian) state will no longer be practical,” Gargash added.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies