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Netanyahu’s UAE visit delayed after Abu Dhabi slams Temple Mount visit

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A visit to the United Arab Emirates, scheduled for next week, has been postponed until February, as has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hebrew media reported on Tuesday.

The reports of the delay came shortly after the Gulf state condemned a visit by Israel’s new national security minister, Itamar bin Gvir, to the Holy Site on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning.

Associates of Netanyahu denied any connection between the events, saying the visit had been postponed due to logistical considerations, according to the Ynet news site.

Netanyahu’s office confirmed on Monday that he plans to visit Abu Dhabi, his first official visit to the Gulf state. In the years leading up to the 2020 Abraham Accords, Netanyahu made several secret but never public visits to the UAE as prime minister.

Netanyahu had attempted to arrange a visit to Abu Dhabi in early 2021, but the visit was repeatedly postponed and eventually canceled due to Jordan’s delay in approving his flight path over the Hashemite kingdom and the proximity of Israeli elections.

Netanyahu recently said in an interview with US journalist Barry Weiss on his “Common Sense” podcast that his first official visit as prime minister after returning to power would be to the UAE.

On September 16, 2022, then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left) met with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Tel Aviv. (Benjamin Netanyahu/Twitter)

In a statement released on Tuesday, hours later Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount ruins at FlashpointThe UAE condemned him for “ramping into the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque” and called for an end to the “serious and provocative violations”.

The visit was also condemned by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey, drew calls from the United States, France and the European Union for calm and to protect the sensitive status quo, and was threatened by the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist group.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount on January 3, 2023 (courtesy of Minhelet Har Habayit)

Despite some indications of weaknesses in the Abraham Accords – such as Lack of UAE and Bahrain tourists Official relations between Israel – Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi – appear to be strong over the past two years.

On Saturday, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan called Netanyahu to congratulate him after the government was sworn in on Thursday.

President Isaac Herzog meets Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, January 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Separately, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan called to congratulate his new Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, according to Reuters.

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 elections, 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 previously told The Times of Israel.

However, 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, the UAE ambassador to Israel, met Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right religious Zionist party, and was photographed greeting Ben Gvir warmly.

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 swaths of the West Bank.

Tobias Siegal and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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