UAE warns annexation would upend any normalisation with Israel


Jerusalem (AFP)

The Emirati ambassador to Washington warned Friday that annexation by the Jewish state of parts of the West Bank would jeopardise any warming of Arab-Israeli ties.

"Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with the UAE," Yousef al-Otaiba wrote in a rare op-ed by an Emirati official in Israel's top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot.

Israel is expected on July 1 to unveil its strategy for implementing a US Middle East peace plan announced by US President Donald Trump in January.

The plan -- rejected wholesale by the Palestinians -- gave the green light for Israel to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, Palestinian territory occupied by the Jewish state since 1967.

Otaiba said his country "has been an unfailing supporter of Middle East peace" and that "annexation is the illegal seizure of Palestinian land".

It could "ignite violence and rouse extremists", he warned.

The move has drawn international condemnation and the Palestinians are trying to mobilise support, particularly in Europe, to pressure Israel to abandon the annexation project.

Arab states have long seen a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their condition for normalisation of relations with Israel.

But Gulf Arab nations like the United Arab Emirates have been warming to the Jewish state amid shared concerns over Iran.

"The UAE has encouraged Israelis to think about the upside of more open and normal links," Otaiba wrote.

He noted that he was one of three Arab ambassadors present in the White House at the announcement of Trump's plan.

"And we have done the same among Emiratis and with Arabs more broadly," he said.

On Tuesday, a flight of Etihad Airways -- the UAE's flag carrier -- carrying medical supplies for the Palestinians to help fight the novel coronavirus touched down in Tel Aviv.

But the aid was refused by the Palestinians as the UAE had coordinated with Israel rather than with the Palestinian Authority.

While a similar May 19 Etihad flight to Tel Aviv was unmarked, Tuesday's was the first time the airline landed in Israel with its logo, a source with knowledge of the flights told AFP.

Otaiba said the UAE and other Arab states "would like to believe Israel is an opportunity, not an enemy. We face too many common dangers and see the great potential of warmer ties.

"Israel's decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal of whether it sees it the same way."

Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel.