Israel and UAE to sign more deals, Lapid says

Israel’s top diplomat Yair Lapid said Wednesday that more cooperation deals with the UAE were on the horizon, during a landmark visit to the Gulf nation.

The United Arab Emirates and Israel normalised ties in September, paving the way for a raft of deals ranging from tourism and aviation to financial services.

“We’re going sign more agreements in July… in Israel. So it’s going to expand,” he told journalists.

“The vision is (that) it moves from governments to business to people.”

Lapid was speaking as he opened an Israeli consulate in the commercial hub of Dubai, a day after opening the country’s first Gulf embassy in UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

“What we are opening here today isn’t only a consulate. It’s a centre of cooperation. A place that symbolises our ability to think together, to develop together, to change the world together,” he said.

On Wednesday, he also visited the gigantic Expo 2020 Dubai, at which Israel will participate along with more than 190 countries.

The six-month global expo, which Dubai hopes will attract visitors and boost the economy, is set to launch in October after a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The Israeli pavilion will serve as a platform to establish bilateral cooperation in business, industry, investments, culture and academia,” said Israel’s pointman for the expo, Elazar Cohen, in a statement.

– ‘Economic and commercial cooperation’ –

Lapid also met with his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, on Tuesday, signing an agreement “for economic and commercial cooperation” according to a UAE foreign ministry statement.

From oil to tourism to cutting-edge technologies, the two countries hope to benefit from an economic dividend following the normalisation agreement. 

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council, voiced hopes earlier this month that trade between the two countries would exceed the billion-dollar mark in the coming year.

Israeli ministers have previously visited the UAE, but newly appointed Lapid became the most senior Israeli to make the trip, and the first on an official mission.

Lapid’s visit comes amid escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, peaking last month in an 11-day exchange of rocket fire.

That came just months after Israel struck accords with the UAE and then also with Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, sparking outrage among Palestinians.

The deals break with decades of Arab League policy making and Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a prerequisite for Arab relations with Israel.

Lapid voiced hopes that such deals would reach “the entire region”.

– ‘Still worried’ on Iran –

Following the US-brokered deal between the UAE and Israel, officials in Washington had talked of bringing Saudi Arabia into the so-called Abraham Accords.

But Lapid talked down any imminent breakthrough in that direction. 

“It’s not easy as it sounds, it going to take time… a lot of difficulties (are) in the way, but Israel’s goal is peace in the region and peace with its neighbours,” he said.

The new foreign minister’s trip also comes as Israeli arch-ally the US and arch-enemy Iran hold indirect talks aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal — efforts the previous Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had strongly opposed.

Lapid said Israel was “still worried” about the talks, but used language markedly different from that of Netanyahu.

“There are 3 options. The best one is a good agreement.. that we prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Second-best is the sanction, the maximum pressure, and the third is a bad agreement.” 

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