Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid on Tuesday opened the country’s first embassy in the Persian Gulf during a trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), nine months after they signed a normalization deal.
He met with Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the capital, Abu Dhabi, posting a picture on Twitter of the two men shaking hands shortly after the opening of the embassy.
Lapid also posted a picture of himself and Emirati Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development Noura al-Kaabi cutting a ribbon in the colors of the Israeli flag.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the opening as “historic.”
Lapid’s visit and the opening of the first Israeli embassy in a Gulf state are “significant for Israel, the UAE and the broader region,” Blinken said in a statement.
Israeli ministers have previously visited the UAE, but newly appointed Lapid became the most senior Israeli to make the trip and the first on an official mission.
“Israel wants peace with its neighbors — with all its neighbors. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home. We’re here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognize that — and to come talk to us,” Lapid said during the embassy’s opening ceremony.
Lapid and his UAE counterpart signed an agreement on economic and trade cooperation, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement later.
The agreement, subject to the approval of both governments and renewable every five years, also concerns cooperation in fairs and the exchange of delegations, it added.
In August last year, former White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat made history by flying to Abu Dhabi on an El Al airplane from Israel.
That was feted by both sides as a breakthrough in efforts for peace in the Middle East, marked by the El Al jet touching down adorned with the word “peace” in English, Arabic and Hebrew.
The normalization accords Israel struck last year with the UAE, and then also with Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, have been condemned by the Palestinians.
The deals break with years of Arab League policy of no relations with Israel until it makes peace with the Palestinians.
Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which governs Gaza, said that the embassy opening showed the UAE was “insisting” on the “sin” of implementing the normalization accord.
Also on Tuesday, Bahrain appointed its first ambassador to Israel.
Lapid, a centrist former television presenter who tenaciously hammered together Israel’s new coalition, has sought to break from former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, saying on Monday that Netanyahu’s government had taken “a terrible gamble” by focusing only on ties with the Republican Party in Washington.
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