United Arab Emirates citizens will be able to stay in Israel for up to 90 days on a single visit, the Gulf power's state news agency WAM said on Thursday, after it became the first Arab nation to reach a visa-exemption agreement with Israel.
Until recently, only Egypt and Jordan had full relations with Israel, but their nationals must still apply for entry permits. Some citizens of Arab states without formal ties have been admitted on a case-by-case basis for trade or pilgrimage.Diplomatic sources say the application process helps Israel screen potential security threats. Pro-Palestinian sentiment is strong in Egypt and Jordan, which see relatively few tourist or business exchanges with their neighbour Israel.
Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said security "was a weighty issue and remains a weighty issue" in the decision to grant UAE citizens the same access Israel offers Western countries with which it has visa exemption arrangements.
"Happily there are other means of distinguishing terrorists from people who you explicitly know are peace-seekers coming here to do business or just tour around Israel," he told Israel's Army Radio without elaborating.
The UAE and Bahrain formally established relations with Israel at a Sept. 15 ceremony in the White House, becoming the first Arab states in more than a quarter of a century to break what had been a long-standing taboo in the region.
The rapprochement, which has uncorked bilateral commerce, has been decried by Palestinians but cast by the Gulf states as consistent with values of coexistence and progress.
An Israeli diplomat said visa exemptions are "not on the cards" with Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim minority rules a Shi'ite majority and which has seen protests against the accord with Israel.