image Photo: Mark Neyman, GPO

Israel welcomes UAE Ambassador

The arrival of the first-ever United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Israel is being celebrated with great fanfare.

Mohamed Mahmoud Fateh Ali Al Khaja presented his diplomatic credentials to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem.

The national anthems of both nations were performed by the IDF orchestra during the ceremony. The new UAE Ambassador then reviewed an IDF honor guard, which was reduced in size due to coronavirus restrictions.

The 40-year-old Emirati is not only a high-ranking diplomat but also a member of the UAE royal family, reflecting the prominence with which Abu Dhabi attaches to its new relationship with the Jewish State. Al Khaja will assume his position 5 months after the two nations normalized relations as part of the United States-brokered Abraham Accords.

According to the UAE Foreign Ministry, Al Khaja has experience in the energy, disarmament, business development and oil investment sectors.

After signing the presidential guest book, both Rivlin and Al Khaja delivered joint statements ahead of a working meeting.

President Rivlin greeted the envoy and his delegation first in Arabic, expressing happiness to meet them in Israel, in holy Jerusalem.

“The entire Israeli people welcomes you with joy. This will be your most important mission – to welcome the hands reaching out to you, to meet the Israeli people and to get to know them up close. Treaties are signed by leaders, but real, sustained peace is made between peoples, face to face,” said the Israeli leader.

He added that it was a very moving occasion for him as President of Israel, but also a special moment for him as the son of Prof. Yosef Yoel Rivlin, who dearly loved the Arabic language and the culture of the peoples of the region.

“My father’s life’s work was the translation of the Holy Koran into Hebrew,” said Pres. Rivlin, saying, “My father’s house, not far from here in Jerusalem, was filled with Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars – who learned from each other and imagined a future of partnership, mutual respect and peace between the sons and daughters of Abraham. In this home I learned that we, the people living here, were not doomed to live together, but destined to do so on this land, to build it, develop it and lead it to a time of peace and prosperity.”

After praising Emirati leaders for creating an “oasis in the desert,” Rivlin said, both countries “share this ethos – a small people that wish to turn arid land into a blooming garden, against all odds.” He added that “We have nurtured the relations between us for some time, believing that if we waited patiently the time would come when we could take them one step further and deepen the friendship between us and make it public,” offering thanks to “brave and wise leadership” for the good fortune of seeing “this wonderful day when the Emirati flag flies beside the Israeli flag over the presidential residence, the home of the Israeli people.”

At the end of his remarks, the president wished the ambassador success on his mission in fluent Arabic, and invited UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zaid to make a state visit to Israel and Jerusalem.

During other meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Al Khaja said he was “very proud and honored to be the first Emirati Ambassador” to Israel, where, he said, he and his hosts were discussing “the model of how we operate.”

“My mission here is to foster and develop this relationship…and we hope this will bring peace and prosperity to the people in the Middle East,” he said.

Both the UAE and Bahrain formalized ties with Israel in a Washington ceremony on 15 September, brought together by shared concern about Iran. The pacts have also paved the path to burgeoning tourism and commerce between Israel and Gulf Arab countries.

Ahead of his visit Al Khajah posted a message on Twitter last Friday, writing: “For Emiratis and Israelis, a new chapter of openness, understanding and prosperity is beginning. Looking forward to my first visit. See you next week. Shabbat Shalom.”

The new UAE Ambassador will only stay in the country for 3 days, and is due to return when the embassy is officially inaugurated sometime after the week-long Jewish Passover holiday, which begins 27 March.

Israel opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi in January. Although Israel considers Jerusalem its capital, the UAE will follow Jordan and Egypt in setting up an embassy in Tel Aviv due to the city’s disputed status. The Palestinians have demanded that the eastern part of Jerusalem serve as the capital of their own future state.