Omar Ghobash: UAE deal with Israel removes huge taboo in Arab world

Abraham Accord sent a powerful signal the UAE had 'taken back control of its own decision making'

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Anna Zacharias: Omar Ghobash as he steps into his new role at the office of cultural diplomacy. Monday, February 3rd, 2020. Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The UAE’s decision to normalise ties with Israel has removed a huge taboo from the Arab world, the UAE Assistant Minister for Cultural Affairs and Public Diplomacy said.

Omar Ghobash said the Abraham Accord sent a powerful signal that the UAE had taken back control of its decision making and assessed its interests in a way that surprised its partners and enemies.

In an online discussion with Mina Al-Oraibi, Editor-in-Chief of The National, Mr Ghobash said the UAE had, in the past, outsourced its relationship with Israel but this had changed.

"It is interesting to see how these taboos have operated in our lives and how easily they have been removed," he said. "We are a state that respects its own sovereignty."

We are deeply committed to Palestinian statehood and to justice for them

The talk, Peace as a Paradigm Shift: A New Era of UAE-Israeli Co-operation, came on the eve of a historic day in the region.

On Tuesday, the UAE and Israel will sign the Abraham Accord in the White House to strengthen links between the two countries.

Mr Ghobash also affirmed that the UAE's loyalty to the Palestinians was no weaker than it was during the past 40 years.

“We are deeply committed to Palestinian statehood and to justice for them," he said. "Our peace will serve the cause in a way we cannot predict today.

"We will be able to stand inside the tent of the Palestine issue and put pressure in favour of Palestinians."

Mr Ghobash will attend the signing ceremony and he said it represented a new era for his country, where issues are not viewed simply through the prism of ideology.

“[It is also] driven by economic and social imperatives," he said. "We need to connect with global hubs and Israel is a global hub.

“It is a massive honour and I’m so excited to get the opportunity to be there.”

But the diplomat cautioned that much hard work lies ahead once the euphoria of the signing passes and the job of connecting begins.

“The Israelis will have stereotypes about us. But young Emiratis are global, love to travel and experience new things," Mr Ghobash said.

"They should be ready for a large number of Emirati tourists turning up across Israel.”

Mr Ghobash, the author of Letters to a Young Muslim, said the pact reflected how identities were more complex than, "I'm a Muslim and these are my beliefs".

“We will find that discourse becomes more interesting and complex. Arabs don’t have to agree. It would be wonderful to agree to disagree and we are coming to this stage."

Mr Ghobash also reflected on the Abrahamic Family House being built on Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island, which will have a mosque, church and synagogue. That was a great achievement and now another one has been secured, he said.

"If we can remove the largest taboo, then everything is possible and up for discussion and that is exciting."

Mr Ghobash also spoke on developing logistics, technology and artistic links with Israel.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, is leading the UAE delegation at the signing ceremony at the White House in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel agreed to halt all annexation of Palestinian territories in exchange for establishing diplomatic ties with the UAE.