Progress in some areas of normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has slowed in recent weeks, with an Israeli diplomatic source pointing to the UAE’s designation as a “red country” by Israel’s Health Ministry.
“At first, there was high motivation in the UAE to promote all kinds of agreements,” the source said. “Lately, they’re not pushing as much; it’s less urgent to them.”
The designation, which the UAE received late last month, means that Israelis returning from the Emirates must quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. All other countries that were “green” also became “red” at that time, effectively closing off all quarantine-free foreign travel options for Israelis.
Earlier in December, the Foreign Ministry asked the Health Ministry to coordinate any change in the UAE’s designation to minimize its impact on the nascent relations between the countries, which declared they were making peace in August, kicking off what came to be known as the Abraham Accords.
Still, the diplomatic source said the change was one factor that brought a chill in the development of relations between Israel and the UAE, along with the third lockdown in Israel. Emirati officials have not moved forward recently with planned visits to Israel, the source said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to visit the UAE and Bahrain in late December after a trip at the beginning of the month was postponed at the Emiratis’ request. The Prime Minister’s Office said there is no news on that front.
Another area where progress has slowed is the planned visa-free travel agreement between Israel and the UAE. The agreement would take effect 30 days after the UAE authorizes it. That was originally set to take place in late December or early January but has been delayed.
The source said large numbers of Israelis arriving in the UAE without visas in the past month, leaving the Emiratis to handle their situation upon arrival, hurt Israel’s efforts on this front.
Another Israeli official said it is hard to pinpoint an exact reason for the slowdown. When asked if the upcoming Israeli election is a factor, he said the results of the US election, with President Donald Trump on the way out of office, could be one, as well.
An American source involved in the Abraham Accords said Israel took a smart tack in having the professional level of the Foreign Ministry and other ministries lead the way on Israeli-UAE relations so that Israeli politics would not get in the way. As such, he saw ties moving forward as usual, even though Israel is currently heading toward an election.
When asked about ties with the UAE moving slower than they were, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said: “We don’t feel anything like this. There is no sense of this on our side… We don’t feel any difference in the diplomatic activities there.”
There is a logistical team in the Foreign Ministry that is working on opening missions to all Abraham Accords countries, he said. There is already a mission in Bahrain, which was operating secretly before the accords and is now in the open, he added.
The staff for the Israeli temporary mission to Abu Dhabi has already been selected, and “in the coming weeks we will have a physical presence there,” as well as in Morocco, Haiat said.
Ariella Steinreich, a communications professional and member of the UAE-Israel Business Council who has been intensively involved in business ties between the countries, said she did not have any sense that enthusiasm has waned in the private sector.