Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed Monday that he is planning his first official visit to the United Arab Emirates.
A source in the prime minister’s office told The Times of Israel that the visit could take place as early as next week, but the exact date and itinerary are still being worked out.
In a statement, the PMO said it was in contact with the UAE government regarding the visit.
On Saturday, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan called Netanyahu to congratulate him after the government was sworn in.
“His Highness expressed his desire to further strengthen the ties between the two countries in various fields, with a special focus on development issues, and to advance the path of partnership and peace for the benefit of the two peoples and the wider region,” the official Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.
Reuters reported that UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan separately called his new Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen.
Israel and the UAE were linked two years ago as part of the Abraham Accords.
Netanyahu was due to visit the UAE in a few months, but the trip has been repeatedly postponed due to the pandemic, scheduling issues and internal political crises.
He was ultimately scheduled to make the trip before his term as prime minister ends in March 2021, but it was canceled due to Jordan’s delay in approving his flight path over the Hashemite kingdom.
In June 2022, when then Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Abu Dhabi to hold talks on the Iran issue, UAE Foreign Minister Nahyan visited Israel marked the second anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords in September. He met with then-Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Netanyahu. President Isaac Herzog also visited the UAE.
There have been concerns that ties between Israel and the Gulf states could be affected by the election of Netanyahu’s hard-line government.
Ahead of last year’s election, the UAE warned Netanyahu not to include far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in his government, a senior official familiar with the matter said. Tell Times of Israel.
Netanyahu and bin Zayed delivered that message during their meeting in Israel. The UAE foreign minister has warned that bringing these extremist lawmakers into Netanyahu’s government risks upending relations with the UAE, in addition to the broader Abraham Accords, the official said.
But Abu Dhabi has apparently changed its tune since the right-wing religious bloc won a majority in the November 1 vote.
Last month, Mohamed Al Khaja, UAE Ambassador to Israel meet Less than a week after being with Smotrich, he was photographed greeting Ben Gvir warmly.
Ben Gvir claims to be a disciple of extremist rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach Party was outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States in the 1980s.
Ben Gvir has been convicted on terror charges but insists he has been chairing meetings in recent years. He was also found guilty of inciting racism in 2007 for holding a sign reading “Expel the Arab enemies” at a protest.
Smotrich, the head of religious Zionism, was seen as one of Israel’s most right-wing lawmakers before Ben Gvir entered politics last year.
Smotridge has long made remarks about Arab Israelis and Palestinians, saying it was “natural” for his wife not to want to give birth in the same hospital ward as Arab women.
Last year, he lamented that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had not “done the task” of driving all Arabs out of the country when it was founded.
Smotridge has long advocated the massive expansion of settlements and the annexation of large parts of the West Bank without giving equal rights to Palestinians in those areas.
The UAE activated the Abraham Accords in exchange for a pledge by Netanyahu’s then-government not to proceed with plans to annex large swathes of the West Bank.