Peace deal with other Gulf countries only 'matter of time' says Israel's ambassador to UAE

Eitan Na’eh believes the Abraham Accords are the start of something significant in the region

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One month into the job, Israel's head of mission to the UAE told The National that diplomacy and trade between the two countries is moving with "breathtaking speed", despite delays caused by the pandemic.

Eitan Na’eh took up the role in January, a few months after the UAE and Bahrain agreed to normalise relations with Israel in a historic peace deal. His title is temporary because the Israeli government is in transition ahead of elections, and the new ambassadors have not yet been confirmed.

The 57-year-old career diplomat believes the accords will one day include other Gulf states.

“We hope that these relationships will serve as model for other countries, who will see that something that only a few months ago was unthinkable, is possible.

“We can do it with other countries. It depends on political will. The stars will have to align. But I'm pretty confident that it's only a matter of time.

"Something pretty big has happened, pretty historical. We are starting to understand what happens next, but we are in the eye of the storm of this positive development. It is only the beginning.”

Things that took us years in other places are taking months here

The Abraham Accords were signed by the UAE, Bahrain, Israel and the US at the White House on September 15, 2020.

Mr Na’eh is keen for the pact to lead to greater prosperity and inclusivity.

“It will benefit those taking part in it, and those who are not yet taking part in it," he said. "It's not a union of the like-minded ganging up against anybody.

“I'm often asked about the Palestinians. They are not left out; they'll be amongst the first to enjoy the fruits of [the accords]. I'm getting calls from Palestinians from Jordan, Palestinians from Nablus, Israelis from all over the place.”

Eitan Naeh, Head of Mission at the embassy to the Emirates News Agency (WAM).
Eitan Na'eh, Israel's ambassador to the UAE. Wam

This week, the UAE appointed its own ambassador to Israel. Mohamed Al Khaja, 40, was sworn in by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, on February 14.

Mr Na’eh wished him well. “He’ll be treated very warmly, very openly in Israel, and I think that both of us together will be able to co-operate closely.

“It is great to have suits on the ground in both Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi.”

Greater trade links

As the ink dried on the Abraham Accords, entrepreneurs from the UAE and Israel started discussing deals.

Bilateral trade started almost immediately and reached Dh1 billion ($272.3m)by January.

On November 8, the first commercial flight from Israel landed in Dubai, packed with businesspeople and tourists, and this week Jewish communities across the Gulf created a formal association to unite people of the faith in the GCC.

“We touched the ground running,” Mr Na’eh said.

“Due to Covid, we arrived with a skeleton staff. So everybody's doing everything. We’re jack of all trades at the moment; busy setting up appointments, learning about the place, setting up an embassy from scratch, organising the embassy residences. All that takes a bit of an effort.

"Things that took us years in other places is taking months here.”

Mr Na’eh formerly served as ambassador to Turkey from 2016 to 2019, and previously headed up the embassy in Azerbaijan. He also worked as deputy head of mission in London.

Looking into 2021, he sees a bright future for both countries, despite the pandemic.

"We are still at the discovery stage, and every time we dig, we find another area in which we ought to co-operate.

"Medicine, education, agriculture, agritech, water tech, construction – you name it, we have an interest. The synergies are huge.

"When you start discovering new trade routes, when you find out you can co-operate on research and development centres to find a cure or treatment for Covid-19 or cancer – these are live examples of what’s on my desk at the moment," he said.

In the meantime, he is settling into life in a new country,

“I hadn't travelled to the UAE before, but I feel very, very comfortable,” he said.

“One can feel the warmth, the hospitality, the curiosity, the wish to make friends very quickly, the enthusiasm.

"I’m not just saying this to be nice. Hospitality is part of the DNA here.”

Signing the Abraham Accords