UAE denies IRENA representation reflects Israel policy change
LONDON - The United Arab Emirates dismissed reports that its hosting Israel’s mission to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reflected a change of policy towards the Jewish state.
Despite speculation, especially in Israeli media, describing the decision as a harbinger of a thaw in relations between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which the UAE is a member, there have been no indications the presence in Abu Dhabi of an Israeli representative to IRENA will mean much beyond accreditation to the international agency.
UAE officials point out that the Israeli representative will only be accredited to IRENA and not to the Emirati government.
“Any agreement between IRENA and Israel does not represent a change in the position of the UAE or its relations with Israel,” Director of Communications at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maryam al-Falasi said in statements reported by the Emirati official news agency WAM.
“IRENA is an international, independent agency that works according to the laws, regulations and norms that govern the work of such organisations,” she said.
The presence of Israeli representatives within IRENA does not involve obligation on the host country with regards to its diplomatic relations or any other relations, added Falasi.
Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also denied that the accreditation of an Israeli representation to IRENA had any implications in terms of relations between UAE and Israel.
Speaking on Al Jazeera television, Nahshon stressed the Israeli representative will be accredited to IRENA, not the UAE Foreign Ministry.
“We only have an accredited diplomat to represent Israel at IRENA, which is an international organisation that happened to be based in Abu Dhabi,” he said, adding that “the representative will be a resident diplomat in Abu Dhabi with IRENA only”.
According to a November 27th statement issued by IRENA, under the Headquarters Agreement, the UAE, as host country, is responsible for the provision of facilities and services that ensure the proper functioning of the agency’s work.
The statement said: “The Headquarters Agreement grants all IRENA members the right to establish permanent missions accredited to the agency, to strengthen the global platform it is creating for cooperation in the field of renewable energy.
“Israel is a member of the agency. Under the agreement, the work of member missions is confined to engagement with the agency in implementation of its work programme focused on the uptake of renewable energy and bears no implication on the relation between the member of IRENA and the host country.”
Israel is the only country with a representative in the UAE solely accredited to IRENA. Its status is being compared to Iran’s presence in the New York-based United Nations despite the country’s lack of diplomatic relations with the United States.
In the Arab world, Israel only has embassies in Egypt and Jordan based on peace treaties signed in 1979 and 1994, respectively. The UAE and the rest of the Arab world do not formally recognise the state of Israel and often vehemently criticise Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
In January 2014, the UAE faced controversy over the participation of Israeli minister Silvan Shalom in the annual IRENA General Assembly in Abu Dhabi. UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash rejected the criticism.
“The UAE has been able, through a delicate balance, to differentiate between Israel’s membership in IRENA and the normalisation of bilateral ties, which Israel has been seeking,” he tweeted. “[The UAE] will not rush into a free normalisation with Israel, like other countries did,” he said.
Emirati official sources say Abu Dhabi is not interested in normalisation with Israel. Gulf analysts say GCC countries believe they have nothing to gain from formal ties with Israel, as that would only play into the hands of Iran.
The coolness of Gulf reactions contrasts with Israel’s seeming eagerness to normalise relations. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the United Nations in September: “The dangers of nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbours to recognise, finally recognise, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”
Tensions between the UAE and Israel escalated in 2010 after it was revealed that members of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service had assassinated a Hamas official in Dubai hotel.
Qatar, which used to host an Israeli trade office in Doha, closed that representation following Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip. Oman had shut its Israeli trade office in 2000.