UAE: Annexation could destroy Israeli normalization with Arab world

In an effort to directly reach out to Israelis, United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba published an opinion piece in the largest Hebrew daily, Yediot Aharonot.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with the Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates January 13, 2019 (photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with the Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates January 13, 2019
(photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/REUTERS)
Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank could destroy its normalization efforts with the Arab world, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US Yousef al Otaiba warned on Friday, in an unusual appeal to the Israeli public.
In an effort to directly reach out to Israelis, he published an opinion piece in the largest Hebrew daily, Yediot Aharonot. Otaiba followed that with a video message in the English language news service The National.
“We wanted to speak directly to the Israelis. The message was all the progress that you have seen, and the attitudes that have been changing toward Israel, people becoming more accepting of Israel, and less hostile to Israel, all of that could be undermined by a decision to annex,” Otaiba said.
“All the progress that you have seen, and exchanges and openings, could be undermined, by one simple step,” he continued. “I wanted to make sure people understood, how we saw this possibility and the risks associated with it. There is opportunity for sure, that has potential in the coming years, as attitudes shift toward Israel. But this could be a setback for all of those things, and especially for Israelis who are so keen on opening relationships with new Arab countries, that they don’t currently have relationships with.”
Otaiba added that “I wanted to make sure people understood the risks associated with this decision, beyond the immediate consequences of what happens on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
“I think these decisions tend to be made in a very limited domestic political lens,” said Otaiba, as he explained that steps taken for internal domestic reasons could have a significant regional impact.
“Sometimes we don’t think of the secondary or tertiary consequences of how other countries or certain platforms will react, what could happen in a street or a country far away from Israel,” Al Otaiba said. “I wanted to make sure that was part of the conversation and I wanted to make sure that was part of the conversation with the Israeli public.”
In his article in Yehdiot Ahronot, he spoke in specific about the impact on neighboring Jordan.
Annexation, he warned, “will spark violence and arouse extremism. It will send tidal waves across the region. It will primarily affect Jordan, the same Jordan whose stability – which is sometimes taken for granted – benefits the entire region and Israel in particular.”
It would also harm the ability of the UAE to form a “closer and more effective security cooperation” with Israel, given that Israel and the UAE have two of the region’s most capable militaries with good ties to the US, he wrote.
Otaiba discussed how the UAE has been a strong supporter of the peace process and has taken steps to oppose violence, such as condemning Hamas incitement and recognizing Hezbollah as a terror organization, alongside its condemnation of Israel violence.
Under the Obama administration, Otaiba recalled, the UAE had worked with the US officials on the idea of confidence building-measures that would benefit Israel, provide greater Palestinian autonomy and improves Israeli ties with the Arab world. In January, Otaiba said, he was one of three Arab ambassadors present in the White House’s east room when Trump unveiled his peace plan.
“Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with the UAE,” Otaiba wrote. “Annexation will also harden Arab views of Israel just when Emirati initiatives have been opening the space for cultural exchange and broader understanding of Israel and Judaism.”
In the past year, the UAE has worked to strengthen ties with Israel and the Jewish global community, he wrote, adding that it invited Israel to participate in next year’s Dubai World Expo and that Israeli diplomats work in Abu Dhabi out of the UN headquarters for International Renewable Energy Agency.
There are plans to have an Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi in the same complex as a mosque and a church, Otaiba wrote.
Last month, “a new kosher caterer launched in Dubai to serve the growing Jewish community, the first new community in the Arab world in more than a century,” he continued.
He portrayed these gestures as “carrots” that had been provided in hopes of future peace but said annexation would counter those efforts.
“In the UAE and across much of the Arab world, we would like to believe Israel is an opportunity, not an enemy. We face too many common dangers and see the great potential of warmer ties. Israel’s decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal of whether it sees it the same way,” the ambassador wrote.
The Yediot Ahronot article was retweeted by UAE Foreign Ministry’s director of strategic communications, Hend al Otaiba with a Hebrew quote from the article.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat tweeted in response.
“What a nice surprise reading a tweet in Hebrew. Israel has extended its hand in peace to its neighbors since its creation. Peace is an opportunity for the whole Middle East and provides potential for us all,” Haiat wrote.
“The US Peace Initiative is a starting point to realize this vision,” he added.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov retweeted the video Otaiba made for The National, stating that his words were an “important message.”
The ambassador is at least the second UAE official to speak out about annexation this month. UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted that “Any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process, undermine Palestinian self-determination [and] constitute a rejection of the international [and] Arab consensus towards stability [and] peace.”
Gargash is expected to address the American Jewish Committee’s Virtual Global Forum this week.
Channel 12 reported on Saturday night that the Gulf States sent a message to the White House warning that US support for Israeli annexation steps would harm their relations with Washington, make it impossible to continue to build ties with Israel and make it difficult for Trump to secure their support for his peace plan.