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Exclusive: UAE wants Israel normalization finalized "as soon as possible," minister says

The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, told me in an exclusive interview that his country wants to implement its normalization deal with Israel “as soon as possible."

What he's saying: Gargash said he was confident that the U.S.-brokered deal moved Israeli annexation of the West Bank off the table for a “long time.” He also said Israeli tourists would soon be able to travel to the UAE.

Why it matters: This is the first-ever interview by a UAE official with an Israeli journalist. Gargash used it to explain what led the UAE to agree to the normalization deal, and to urge Israel to take steps to ensure its success.

  • Gargash said the approving statement yesterday from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden showed there was bipartisan support for this deal, and that U.S. efforts to bring Israel and the UAE together will continue regardless of the result of November's election.
  • He stressed that this was not a symbolic step, but one that the UAE hopes will lead to cooperation on agriculture, food security, cyber security, tourism, technology and trade. Gargash said the deal would also involve opening embassies.
  • “We are not talking about a very slow and gradual process. ... There are sectors that we would like to develop with Israel and there are sectors that Israel would like to develop. I see teams meeting in order to address many of the areas of interest in Israel and in the UAE," he said.

The backstory: Gargash said the UAE’s relations with Israel improved slowly over the years, and that progress accelerated in the last year or two as the Gulf country realized it wanted to be able to “disagree with Israel on the political issues and work together on other areas."

  • He said the region had seen had been many false starts in the past, so efforts were needed from Israel, the UAE and the U.S. to ensure this initiative was successful.
  • "This is an important milestone in Arab-Israeli relations. We have seen many milestones which were less successful. If we learn something from the region, it is that it is not once you announce something that it becomes instantly successful. We all have to work together," he said.

What to watch: The UAE’s main achievement in the normalization deal is the suspension of Israel's annexation plans — but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly said that suspension was only temporary. Gargash said he's confident there will be no Israeli annexations for a long time.

  • “I don’t understand Israeli politics. It is very complicated. But this is a three-way commitment. We are sure that as we will keep our commitment, and the U.S. is involved, so will Israel keep its commitment. I think we have bought a lot of time…I don’t think it is a short suspension."
  • He added that the rationale behind pushing for a suspension was to try to relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • “We keep urging Palestinians and Israelis to come back to the negotiations table. You can’t stop the time bomb but at the same time not do anything in terms of the interaction that is needed," he said.

Worth noting: Gargash said the upcoming EXPO in Dubai would be an important opportunity for Israelis to travel to the UAE.

Go deeper... Behind the scenes: How the deal came together

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