UAE envoy to Britain: ‘The idea Arabs and Israel must be at war is nonsense’
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

UAE envoy to Britain: ‘The idea Arabs and Israel must be at war is nonsense’

Emirati Ambassador to the UK, Mansoor Abulhoul, discusses the historic Abraham Accords, remaining a 'stanch supporter' of Palestinians and antisemitism in the Arab media

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

The United Arab Emirates ambassador has urged British Jews to visit the country as he expressed his wish to be an ally in the fight against antisemitism in the UK and decried hate in parts of the Arab media.

Mansoor Abulhoul made the comments in his first interview with the Jewish media after his country and Israel signed the historic Abraham Accords to normalise relations.

The envoy, who studied at Leeds University and whose British mother moved to the UAE in 1968, said the region had suffered from decades of “indoctrination stemming from the Arab nationalist movement” and been “held back” by a fear of engaging with others. “The narrative that the Arabs should be in endless war with the Israelis is absolute nonsense and the Abraham Accords proves that” he insisted.

“To have a dialogue you have to be at the table and we very much see the Abraham accords as a new pathway to peace. For us to ignore a major power engine we’re denying the region strengths and bonds from which we can build peace. We’re both very dynamic economies and its difficult not to be able to work together.”

The narrative that the Arabs should be in endless war with the Israelis is absolute nonsense and the Abraham Accords proves that

He strongly disagrees with any suggestion that the deal doesn’t progress the issue of peace with the Palestinians, whose leadership have accused the UAE of betrayal.

“Where we had looming annexation – which would have sent peace into overdrive reverse gear – that’s been removed. It’s important the Palestinians use this time to come in and engage.”

It is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to decide what sort of solution they finally come to. But the UAE will do all it can to urge both sides to break the impasse. We will be able to help precisely because we can now communicate directly with Israel.”

Where we had looming annexation – which would have sent peace into overdrive reverse gear – that’s been removed. It’s important the Palestinians use this time to come in and engage

Some commentators noted a change in tone at last week’s UN address by Foreign Minister Abdullah bin-Zayad; gone were any explicit mentions of occupation or human rights violations that have been prominent in previous years. Abulhoul was also treading carefully, while making clear his country remains a “stanch supporter” of the Palestinians and asserting the deal in no way diluted Abu Dhabi’s backing of a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as capital.

Asked about their stance on settlements, his answer was softer than you’d expect even from a British official: “We feel that UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative are still central to finding a just solution for the Palestinians,” he said.

Israeli flag carrier El Al’s flight LY971 after landing at the airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 31 August 2020. The first-ever El Al flight from Israel to UAE LY971 from Ben Gurion Airport carried a delegation led on the US side by President Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner. Photo by: Amos Ben Gershom-GPO Via JINIPIX

The deal has been almost universally welcomed in the international community but so concerned was the Embassy in London about protests after its announcement that it removed the flag and symbols that normally proudly adorn the building. Those protests largely didn’t materialise.

The Accords pave the way for an exchange of embassies and ambassadors and officials plan to cooperate on issues from cybersecurity to agriculture and the fight against coronavirus.

A keen cyclist, Abulhoul also hopes to see sporting and music initiatives to bring the two peoples together. While declining to comment on the wider BDS campaign, he said of efforts to boycott Israel culturally: “It’s a shame when we can’t use culture which is such a bridge. We need to be much more open and accepting.”

The ambassador now “very much looked forward” to meeting his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Hotovely and said “it’s important” the two embassies hold joint events. He hoped there would also be capacity for three-way projects involving the UK.

Mansoor and his family

It’s all a far cry from just two months ago when Israeli passport holders were still officially barred from the Emirates. Challenged on whether that policy had been a mistake, Abulhoul said it was crucial to “focus on the future. What is important now is to build this relationship, work towards a broader peace settlement and break old perceptions on both sides”.

It is an irony resulting from the pandemic that it is currently easier to visit the Jewish state from the UAE because of an air bridge, than from the UK, and he hopes to make his first trip soon when visiting Yad Vashem will be a priority. He’s keen for British Jews to know they can travel to his country without reservation.

“It’s like jumping on the Eurostar,” he joked. As well as great hotels, the world’s tallest building and “island resorts in Abu Dhabi”, the Louvre museum is home to a Yemenite Torah scroll dating back to 1498, housed alongside scriptures from other faiths in what the envoy says is a “big statement by us”.

It’s a shame when we can’t use culture which is such a bridge. We need to be much more open and accepting

The UAE brought in a law outlawing religious discrimination in 2015 but, Abulhoul acknowledged, the local Jewish community may “understandably in the Arab world” not have been comfortable in fully expressing itself until recently.

It has had a synagogue since 2008, now boasts a chief rabbi and from 2022 will benefit from the Abrahamic Family House, a world-first complex featuring a shul, mosque and church alongside each other.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash (C), US President’s senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat (R) during a meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 31 August 2020. Photo by: Amos Ben Gershom-GPO Via JINIPIX

He told Jewish News the Accords had in many ways been a “triumph of dialogue” between faiths, adding: “The UAE is emerging as a centre for interreligious dialogue and we need to do more of that here in the UK. There has been this issue with antisemitism here and it’s something we need to join hands on and combat this narrative of hate.”

Having contacted Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis last year, he added: “I think we now have all the links in place to run some excellent initiatives. The sky’s the limit now.”

The UAE is emerging as a centre for interreligious dialogue and we need to do more of that here in the UK. There has been this issue with antisemitism here and it’s something we need to join hands on and combat this narrative of hate

When it comes to Arabic media in the Middle East, he is troubled at the messages about Israel and Jews sometimes pushed to youngsters. ’It’s something that’s very concerning,” the envoy said.

“This narrative of hate we have to push back on.” He suggested there had been “certain very strong currents that were well funded that are trying to push a strong psychological manipulation and agenda. We have been pushing back against that. It is a huge risk to future generations”.

On Iran – which he described as a “destabilising force” – he said the UAE was “concerned” about the imminent expiry of the arms embargo but declined to say whether they joined Israel in calling for Britain to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

“We are looking for is de-escalation in the region and also bringing Iran in line in terms of arms and supporting proxy regimes within the region.”

He urged the world not to view Iran and the Accords as linked but urged “like-minded states” to follow in normalising relations with Israel. “It’s a natural progression but states make their own decisions when is right for them”.

read more:
comments