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Why Was Netanyahu’s UAE Visit Postponed Several Times?

Alwaght- A few months after normalization of the UAE and Bahrain relations with the Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu has not yet been able to travel to Abu Dhabi and Manama, as his scheduled trips have been delayed after several plannings. The repeated postponement of Netanyahu’s visit to the two Arab states has gradually caused secret layers of Israeli-Emirati disputes to come to surface.

In mid-December 2020, the media announced that for the second time the Israeli PM had canceled his trip to the UAE and Bahrain due to “Israeli political developments,” about three months after normalization agreement between Tel Aviv and Arab regimes.

After that, a few days before the beginning of new year, Netanyahu postponed his trip to the two compromising countries for the third time in a row, this time under the pretext of health protocols. At the time, Reuters quoted Emirati officials as saying that the trip was scheduled to take place next week, which has been rescheduled. According to the report, the reason for the cancellation of Netanyahu’s visit was the imposition of widespread lockdown in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu’s visit postponements to Bahrain and the UAE were announced in a way as if they were an Israeli decision, but freshly for the fourth time Netanyahu’s planned visit has been delayed. He was planned to travel to the UAE for three days but now his stay has been substantially cut short to three hours, if it takes place at all. This is while the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that he had canceled his trip to Bahrain altogether. According to the report, Netanyahu’s decision to cancel his visit was made after reducing the duration of his trip to the UAE from three days to three hours, and Israeli news outlets reported that, citing informed sources, he delayed the visit because of the “ongoing peak in the coronavirus and continued closure of Ben-Gurion Airport.”

But it seems that coronavirus restrictions are simply an excuse and the changes are related to decision made by the hosts in Abu Dhabi and Manama.

A way to escape home pressures

Benjamin Netanyahu is currently under intense internal pressure for his corruption case, and at the same time he is bracing for a tough election campaign— elections that have been held for three consecutive rounds in less than two year, but in none the political parties have been able to win an absolute majority. Shaky cabinets have been dissolved several months after their formation and led to snap votes. And the planned general election is the fourth one as Netanyahu and Benny Gantz failed to consummate the deal of PM post sharing.

If Netanyahu fails in the March 23 elections, he will go straight to court after conceding the the PM’s office and maybe even go to custody as his corruption case is on the table of the judiciary. Netanyahu is currently witnessing weekly protest rallies by settlers, and last Saturday night thousands of people in occupied Palestine territories rallied against him for the 27th week.

“The demonstrators demanded the removal of Netanyahu for corruption, and a number of protesters tried to block the entrance to Netanyahu’s residence and set fire to his pictures,” Israeli Channel 12 reported.  

Netanyahu has also lost his closest ally Donald Trump in the US, and Joe Biden’s assumption of power in the White House has challenged the Israeli PM’s political life.

Despite the heavy internal pressure, as well as Trump’s defeat— which some see as a prelude to Netanyahu’s defeat too—, the controversial Israeli PM plans to make trips to the UAE and Bahrain a political and diplomatic achievement. It seems that he is not lucky enough as, on the one hand, the trip to the UAE has been reduced to a few hours instead of a few days, and on the other, the trip to Bahrain has been canceled altogether.

Why did the UAE and Bahrain walk back from hosting Netanyahu?

Apparent enough, the cancellation and restriction of Netanyahu’s visit was done not by the Israelis as it is falsely promoted, but by the compromising Arab rulers, because in general, Netanyahu’s long visit to the two Arab countries is a much-needed achievement for him and the fact is that the rescheduling is his host’s job. At the same time, the two countries’ retreat from arranging a warm reception ceremony for Netanyahu seems significant. Here are some reasons:

Security concerns

Experts suggest that Bahrain is still unable to host the Israeli PM due to the public opposition, and despite Tel Aviv’s request, it prefers to be more conservative. In the UAE, hosting Netanyahu may prove even more difficult as the rulers in the Emirates are worried about some internal opposition and also about some movements of regional groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the country. A few months ago, when normalization was given publicity, after a few days, some Emirati cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi witnessed a series of incidents including fires that raised security concerns in the country. The same concerns led the UAE to temporarily suspend visas for citizens of about 17 countries until concerns were addressed. Thus, both regional and home conditions presently disallow the two countries of hosting the Israeli leader.

The UAE discontentment

The cancellations may well be an outcome of the UAE discontentment and the emergence of some disputes between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. The UAE media reported upon the normalization deal announcement that the agreement was done in exchange for the cessation of settlements in the pre-1967 territories, and some Emirati officials also confirmed this condition. In fact, by announcing this condition, the UAE tried to paint as legitimate for Palestinians and among Muslims its normalization, but after the move, not only the settlements did not stop but also Netanyahu’s cabinet announced more plans for settlement.

With the continuation of settlement in the Palestinian territories, the UAE knows that it has not achieved anything to legitimize its action, and it seems that the country has done something that, despite the high cost for its position in the Islamic world, has no fruits. Perhaps the cancellation of the visit to Tel Aviv of Abu Dahabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed can also be understood in the context of the same differences between the UAE and the Israeli regime over ongoing settlement constructions beyond the deal.

Trumps duped the UAE

Through the thaw with Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi hoped to receive American F-35 fighter jets and Trump, in his last action and the last hours of presence in the White House, signed a contract to deliver the stealth fighters to the UAE. But less than 10 days after his inauguration, the new President Joe Biden, to Abu Dhabi’s frustration, froze the contract, a move meaning that there would not be any delivery in the foreseeable future.

In fact, Trump betrayed the UAE. Despite promising to deliver the F-35s in exchange for normalization of relations with Tel Aviv, he postponed confirming the delivery order to four months after the normalization agreement signing. That was while UAE expected the delivery to follow immediately after the agreement in the fall.

The UAE empty hands after deal with the Israelis

The UAE now sees itself empty-handed after the thaw and sees itself as a loser on the playing field. After all, none of their conditions, including halt to the settlement and warplanes delivery, were met by the Americans and the Israelis. This explains why the Emirati leaders do not want Netanyahu’s visit to their country and their reluctance, in turn, explains why the Israeli PM’s visit was postponed four times and his trip is restricted to three hours, while it is not yet certain to take place. 

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