Netanyahu cancels first official trip to the Emirates

The prime minister's visit was to take place less than two weeks before Israel's general election
Combinación del primer ministro israelí Benjamin Netanyahu en Jerusalén y el príncipe heredero de Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed

PHOTO/AFP  -   Combination of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed

Benjamin Netanyahu was to make history, this time as the first Israeli head of government to travel to the United Arab Emirates. The prime minister's visit, initially announced for the end of last year but rescheduled several times because of the coronavirus pandemic, was also to take place less than two weeks before the Israeli general elections, in which Netanyahu's continuity in office is at stake. 

According to Israeli media, the reasons were the hospitalisation of his wife for appendicitis and the delay of the flight because Jordan did not authorise it to pass through its airspace.

The Prime Minister's Office later clarified that the trip 'was postponed due to difficulties in coordinating his flight in Jordanian airspace'.

Government sources quoted by the Israeli daily Haaretz had indicated that Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyane.

Asked by AFP, the prime minister's office neither confirmed nor denied the reports. "We are not going to comment," a senior official in Netanyahu's office said.

There had also been reports in the Israeli press of a possible meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sudan's Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, although no agenda has emerged so far. No one could confirm whether the prime minister was also planning a stop in neighbouring Bahrain during his trip to the Gulf.

Vallas publicitarias de campaña para el partido derechista Likud de Israel con una foto del primer ministro Benjamin Netanyahu
AFP/ HAZEM BADER-Campaign billboards for Israel's right-wing Likud party with a picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, several local portals added today that the leader put pressure on the Emirati authorities to authorise his visit before the elections and during an election campaign in which he has used normalisation with Arab countries and his ties with international leaders as two of his main arguments.

The latest poll published in Israel by Channel 13 gave victory to Likud with 29 seats, followed by Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid with 20, but with the full count Netanyahu would not have the 61 seats needed to form a government. 

What does seem likely to be decisive is the Israeli public's judgement of the COVID-19 crisis, the vaccination deadlines and the date of the long-awaited return to normality. It is true that no poll doubts that, in a month and a half, Netanyahu's Likud party will be the most voted party. Not only because of his good management of the pandemic, making his country one of the most advanced in the world in terms of immunity. The division of the centrist Blue and White bloc, caused by the decision of its leader Benny Gantz to form a rotating government with the current prime minister after the elections of 2 March 2020, breaking his main electoral promise, makes Benjamin Netanyahu's new victory even more likely. 

El Primer Ministro de Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, el Presidente de los EE.UU. Donald Trump, el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Bahréin, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, y el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de los Emiratos Árabes Unidos, Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan después de firmar los Acuerdos de Abraham AP/ALEX BRANDON
AP/ALEX BRANDON-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan after signing the Abraham Accords.

The Abraham Accords are becoming increasingly evident in the Middle East, strengthening Israel's role and blurring the old paradigms in the region, thus breaking the traditional Arab consensus of not normalising ties with the Jewish state until there is a peace agreement with the Palestinian people. 

The path towards peace in the Middle East continues to deepen after the Abraham Accords, which have led nations such as the Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, something historic in the Arab world, as only Egypt and Jordan had relations with the Israeli state before. The challenge is to achieve peace in the region and to corner common enemies, such as Iran and Turkey.