Israel's Gaza offensive, Jerusalem's crackdown prompted 'uncomfortable' Israel-UAE conversations

AFP , Sunday 6 Jun 2021

'It wasn't easy,' Hassan-Nahoum said of the atmosphere between Israeli business leaders and their UAE counterparts

Gaza Strip
A Palestinian workman breaks rubble from a building destroyed during the May 2021 conflict between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City on June 5, 2021 AFP

Last month's Israel's crackdown on Palestinians in Jerusalem and offensive on Gaza Strip triggered "uncomfortable conversations" between business partners in Israel and the United Arab Emirates just months after the countries normalised ties, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem told AFP.

But the conversations were "open" and "everybody was very moderate and understanding", Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said.

Speaking on the sidelines of a bilateral investment conference in Dubai, Hassan-Nahoum, co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council, also expressed hope that trade between the two countries would exceed the billion-dollar mark in the coming year.

The UAE in 2020 became only the third Arab country to establish full ties with Israel under a Washington-backed deal.

The two sides have since announced a string of deals on investment, business cooperation and visa-free travel.

But last month, Israel had a crackdown on Palestinians and an 11-day military campaign on Gaza. 

"It wasn't easy," Hassan-Nahoum said of the atmosphere between Israeli business leaders and their UAE counterparts.

"I am involved in a lot of different forums of Israelis and Emiratis and there were some uncomfortable conversations, but it was important that we had those conversations," she said.

"We had very open conversations on areas of disagreements... people had a lot of questions about the (Israeli) military campaign" which involved air and mortar strikes on Gaza, she added.

"We are definitely at the beginning of this relationship... one of the most important things about having a long-lasting relationship is to build trust," Hassan-Nahoum said.

"After many years of not having this friendship I think it takes time."

The main questions centred on the "proportionality" of Israel's campaign on Gaza, but also "about Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, about what happened in Al-Aqsa mosque," she said.

Israel's campaign on Gaza began after its security forces used violence against Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound. 

It also followed weeks of an Israeli crackdown on Palestinian protestors in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood against the planned expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in favour of Israeli settlers.

Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded over 1,900 people, the Gaza health ministry says.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza have killed 13 people in Israel, medics and the military say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.

An Egyptian-mediated truce ended Israel's campaign on Gaza. 

The conflict put a pause on months of warming relations, prompting the UAE to publicly criticise Israel over its actions.

But Hassan-Nahoum vowed to press ahead with ties that have already produced trade worth "about half a billion dollars so far".

"A few months ago it was like 300 million and I think that (there) has been a real push in the last few months," she said, noting that this figure "would have been much higher" in the absence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I think it would have been already in the billion dollars mark -- but we will get there, inshallah, next year," she said.

This week's trade fair sought to pave the way for cooperation deals in the fields of health, renewable energy and technology.

In a further sign that the commercial relationship remains broadly on track, Israel and the UAE this week also agreed a bilateral tax treaty.

But a visit to Dubai by Israeli Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen to attend a travel industry forum in mid-May was cancelled.

The UAE was the third Arab country to normalise ties with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have since followed suit.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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