UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al-Otaiba’s Warning Against Israeli Annexation Plans

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


On June 12, UAE ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba authored an op-ed warning the Israeli government against moving forward with its annexation plans, while offering the possibility of a normalization of ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Ambassador Al Otaiba’s choice of medium—an op-ed written in Hebrew and published in Israel’s most widely-circulated newspaper, the centrist Yedioth Ahronoth—was seen as a bold move by many in Israel. A review of opinion pieces across various Israeli newspapers points to an “audience” that has little interest in negotiation and compromise, is caught up in a blame game with the Palestinians, and appears set on a path of unilateral actions.

The Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman, who recognized and acknowledged the historic nature of the ambassador’s message, chose to emphasize aspects of the op-ed calling for cooperation between Israel and Arab countries: “Israelis woke up to a potential new era on Friday with an article by the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the US warning that Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank would ‘upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with the UAE’…. Delivered in Hebrew and through a video statement, it’s much more than just a comment from Abu Dhabi or warning…. The UAE’s message may be saying symbolically that Israel and the Gulf need each other and that growing relations are necessary, not pouring cold water on them. The message may be that Israel cannot get both closer relations and ignore totally the Palestinian issue by redrawing the lines of the status quo. Would Israel risk its currently strong position in the Middle East by proceeding? This is the question that presents itself as a hinge in the region.”

Writing for the Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon sees an opportunity in the ambassador’s message, but uses it to suggest that Israel may be able to leverage the annexation issue to gain concessions from the Arab states: “In an unprecedented piece in Friday’s Yediot Aharonot, the UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al-Otaiba, took his argument against annexation to the Israeli people, and appealed to their long-held desire to have normal relations with the countries of the region. ‘Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE’, he wrote. Normal ties, he said, would look like this: ‘Greater security. Direct links. Expanded markets. Growing acceptance. Normal, he continued, is not annexation’.… Okay, so let’s say that Israel heeds Otaiba’s advice, and does not extend its sovereignty over the lands in question. Then what can it expect from the UAE in return? The trick for Israel now will be leveraging what artfully could be presented as a concession into getting something in return.”

In an op-ed published by the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, another Israeli observer, Eldad Beck, expresses appreciation for Al-Otaiba’s effort, but attributes full blame to the Palestinians for their conflict with Israel: “I wanted to thank you for a moving, nostalgic weekend. You were three years old when then-President of Egypt Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem. I was 12. Obviously, you don’t remember anything about that historic event. Sadat got us so fired up that we were willing to listen politely to the harsh things he said about us from the Knesset podium, some of which were utterly unacceptable to most of the Israeli public. By that time, Israel had experienced five wars with Egypt. And Sadat, who had caused us more pain than his predecessor did, knew how to touch our hearts. … If you truly want to contribute to peace in the Middle East, while remaining ‘fervent supporters of the Palestinian people’, you should put out an appeal to the Palestinian people, in Arabic…. Time after time, they have rejected compromises, peace initiatives, and diplomatic plans, and held us all hostage to their whim of destroying us. And you in the Arab states have encouraged them, providing political and diplomatic backing, while sending them money that only strengthened their stubborn adherence to the idea that ‘Palestine will be liberated from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea’.”

Israeli hardliners, by contrast, make no attempt to see any silver lining in the ambassador’s words, with Israel Hayom’s Caroline Glick taking offense at the ‘directness’ of the op-ed and declaring that “the UAE ambassador has no business threatening Israel…. Otaiba’s article was not a testament to his country’s fellow feelings towards the people of Israel. It was a threat to the people of Israel. And he didn’t beat around the bush. He stated the threat outright…. Israelis have no reason to respond to Otaiba’s menacing message with anything but annoyance. The benefits of sovereignty are great, in and of themselves. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must withstand the pressures and move forthrightly to apply Israel’s laws in Judea and Samaria as envisioned in the peace plan set out by the President of the United States.”

That message is driven further home by Yedioth Ahronoth’s Shelomoh Nakdimon who, in response to the op-ed by Amb. Al Otaiba on the pages of the same newspaper, alleges that the Israelis have always been in favor of peace, and therefore real change must come from the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership: “In 1944, Menachem Begin, who would one day sign an historic treaty with Israel’s greatest foe, urged cooperation and peace between Jews and Arabs on this land, a plea that has fallen on deaf ears for a century…. The weekend op-ed, penned by UAE Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba, is part of a long history of locating maneuvers and measures that could end the Jewish-Arab conflict in general, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular…. The Arabs in the land of Israel brought disaster down upon themselves, and it seems the Palestinian leadership is following in their footprints today. But things did not have to be that way…. But, what can you do? They did not listen then and they sure aren’t listening now.”

Some Israeli newspapers put forward arguments, including this op-ed in the Jerusalem Post by the Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, that the ambassador’s position and the UAE’s overall involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are seen with suspicion even by the Palestinian leadership: “Unlike many Palestinian parties, the Palestinian Authority has avoided commenting on an article published last week by United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, in Yediot Aharonot…. The PA’s silence, however, does not mean that it condones the ambassador’s statements. In the past few years, PA officials have privately accused the UAE of meddling in Palestinian internal affairs and acting contrary to Arab League resolutions by advancing normalization with Israel…. Several Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, strongly condemned the UAE ambassador’s statements, accusing him of “beseeching” Israel to normalize its relations with the Arab states.”

Finally, the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren combined his commentary on the ambassador’s outreach with his assessment of an appearance by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash at a virtual American Jewish Committee (AJC) gathering: “During the 45-minute interview, which the AJC hailed as ‘a historic public appearance by a senior Arab government official before a global Jewish organization,’ Gargash referred to Israel’s much-maligned plan to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank three times. As opposed to the UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, Gargash did not explicitly warn that annexation would spell the death of the recent rapprochement between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi. On Friday, al-Otaiba, also a minister of state, published an unprecedented Hebrew op-ed in leading Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot in which he declared that annexation ‘will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE’. Gargash on Sunday refrained from echoing such threats, but he is on the record as staunchly opposed to annexation as well. ‘Continued Israeli talk of annexing Palestinian lands must stop’, he wrote on his Twitter account earlier this month. ‘Any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process, undermine Palestinian self determination & constitute a rejection of the international & Arab consensus towards stability & peace’, he added.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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