The United Arab Emirates has publicly distanced itself from Benjamin Netanyahu over concerns the Israeli Prime Minister was using Abu Dhabi to boost his prospects in upcoming Israeli elections.
The diplomatic spat comes just six months after a historic normalization agreement, known as the Abraham Accords, was signed between the two countries.
“The UAE signed the Accords for the hope and opportunities they provide our people, not individual leaders,” an Emirati official told CNN.
“Personalizing and politicizing the Accords in this way demeans the historic achievement. The UAE will not go down that road,” the official added.
Netanyahu, who faces a general election in five days’ time, has taken to name-dropping Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in recent appearances and campaign stops, billing himself as the facilitator of multi-billion-dollar UAE investment projects in Israel, and suggesting his opponents do not have the same clout.
The proposed UAE investment, Netanyahu said a week ago, “is another means by which our economy will be propelled forward. I think that is another question the [Israel] public is faced with - who will propel our economy forward?”
On Wednesday morning, Israeli radio, citing people inside the Prime Minister’s Office, reported that Netanyahu was set to fly to Abu Dhabi the following day. Just a few hours later the Prime Minister appeared on radio himself knocking back those reports and instead talking up the prospect of further normalization deals with Arab states.
“There are four more historic agreements around the corner, which I intend to deliver,” Netanyahu said. “I will not travel to Abu Dhabi before the election; the reports that I would go are spin, I don’t know who initiated them. I will go there later.”
In Abu Dhabi, officials made clear they had grown frustrated with what they saw as “internal electioneering” by the Israeli leader.
“The purpose of the Abrahamic Accords is to provide a robust strategic foundation to foster peace and prosperity with the State of Israel and in the wider region,” presidential adviser and outgoing Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted on Wednesday. “The UAE will not be a part in any internal electioneering in Israel, now or ever.”
Last week, the UAE announced plans to invest $10 billion in Israel. Days later, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan Ahmad al-Jaber warned that plan should not be seen as “politically associated.”
The normalization agreement, announced last August and signed on the White House south lawn a month later, prompted a flurry of business dealings and warm exchanges between the two countries – the relationship likened to a “whirlwind honeymoon.”
Netanyahu himself has been keen for some time to travel to Abu Dhabi, a trip that would serve to underline his diplomatic achievements as he fights a tight election battle, but so far to no avail.
Last week, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a blunt statement after Netanyahu was forced to cancel earlier plans to make the journey.
The statement accused Jordan of nixing the trip by closing its airspace, in an apparent tit-for-tat move after Israel modified the security arrangements of the Jordanian Crown Prince’s planned visit to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson, was unrepentant.
“You renege on an agreement with Jordan, you disrupt a religious visit. You create conditions that made this holy, this religious, visit on a holy occasion, impossible. And then you expect to come to Jordan and fly out of Jordan, let’s be serious here, is this something that could be expected?”
Abu Dhabi also cited Covid-19 concerns as a reason for the last-minute cancelation.