In historic op-ed in Israeli press, UAE ambassador warns against annexation

UAE envoy to US warned that Israel’s planned annexation, which could begin as soon as July 1, could “ignite violence and rouse extremists.”
Friday 12/06/2020
A file picture of Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, speaking during the United Against Nu)clear Iran (UANI) 2018 summit. (DPA)
A file picture of Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, speaking during the United Against Nu)clear Iran (UANI) 2018 summit. (DPA)

ABU DHABI--In an unusual direct address to the Israeli public by an Arab official, United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US Yousef Al-Otaiba published on Friday an opinion piece in Hebrew in Israeli media pointing out the risks of Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank on its ties with Arab countries and impact on regional stability.

“Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE,” Otaiba wrote in the op-ed in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

He warned that Israel’s planned annexation, which could begin as soon as July 1, could “ignite violence and rouse extremists,” adding: “It will send shock waves around the region, especially in Jordan whose stability benefits the entire region, particularly Israel.”

The UAE believes that Palestinians and Israelis can achieve lasting peace, but “Israel’s decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal of whether it sees it the same way,” Otaiba wrote. 

The Emirati diplomat’s opinion article reiterates his country’s rejection of Israel’s annexation plan, under which the Jordan Valley and Isreali settlements in the West Bank could be assumed by Israel.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said last month that Israel’s annexation “is illegal, undermines opportunities for peace, and contradicts all efforts made by the international community to reach a lasting political solution in accordance with relevant international resolutions.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up around a quarter of the West Bank, as well as Israel’s far-flung Jewish settlements. That would make it virtually impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, which is still widely seen as the only way to resolve the conflict. 

“A unilateral and deliberate act, annexation is the illegal seizure of Palestinian land. It defies the Arab – and indeed the international — consensus on the Palestinian right to self-determination,” Otaiba wrote.

Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries with which Israel has formal relations. Jordan has recently warned that Israeli annexation could lead to suspension of its peace treaty with Israel. It has no diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab countries, although there have been some limited signs of rapprochement in recent years.  

“All the progress that you’ve seen and the attitudes that have been changing towards Israel could be undermined by a decision to annex,” Otaiba said in a video published at the same time with the article.

He explained in the video, accompanied with an interview with The National, a UAE-based newspaper published in English, his motivation for the op-ed addressed to the Israeli public.

He said “there (are) people who are going to simply be not ok with the notion that an Emirati diplomat put something in an Israeli publication.”

But, as annexation would pour cold water, “I wanted to make sure people understood the risks associated with the decision beyond the immediate consequences of what happens on the Israeli-Palestinian track,” he said.

Addressing Arabs and Emiratis who object to him writing in an Israeli paper, which some have criticised as a form of “normalisation,” Otaiba cited the example of former Egyptian leader Anwar Saddat, who “went to Jerusalem to make a point and was very emphatic about it, because it was in the best interest of his country.”

Sadat visited Israel in 1977 and even addressed the Israeli Knesset, urging for a just peace with neighbouring states. “While I am not going to Tel Aviv to give a speech, I think this has the same kind of value of speaking directly to an audience,” Otaiba noted.

Many Arab and European countries share Otaiba’s concerns and have cautioned against potential unilateral territorial moves that could jeopardise a two-state solution to the conflict.

Palestinians want the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war — for an envisaged future independent state. They say annexation would make that impossible, and have called for international sanctions against Israel.