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UAE, Israeli ministers hold first meeting

BERLIN: Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (left) greets UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas looks on during a visit to the Holocaust Memorial yesterday. – AFP

BERLIN: The foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates yesterday visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin during their “historic” first meeting, a major step forward for their new relations. Israel’s Gabi Ashkenazi and UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan bumped elbows in line with measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus. It was their first face-to-face meeting since their countries set asides decades of enmity and signed a US-brokered deal in mid-September to normalize ties.

Accompanied by their host German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the pair walked through the sombre monument, a vast undulating labyrinth of more than 2,700 grey concrete blocks spread over an area equivalent to three football fields. It commemorates the slaughter of six million Jews by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Visibly relaxed, Ashkenazi and Sheikh Abdullah shared a few words as they visited the monument’s underground museum and signed the visitors’ book.

Sheikh Abdullah wrote “never again,” according to a photo tweeted by an Israeli diplomat. Ashkenazi looked forward in his message saying the meeting “symbolises the beginning of a new era. An era of peace between peoples. “Our joint signature in the book of remembrance is like a shared cry and oath: to remember and not to forget, to be strong and to promise ‘never again’.”

The visit by the Emirati minister to the Holocaust Memorial is a highly symbolic step, marking the shift in attitudes in the Arab world towards Israel and Jews. Political conflicts have led to fierce tensions between Islam and Judaism and Holocaust denial is rampant in many Arab countries.

Maas called it “a great honor that the Israeli and Emirati foreign ministers picked Berlin as the site for their historic first meeting. The most important currency in diplomacy is trust and I am personally thankful to both my colleagues that they are placing this trust in Germany.” The ministers were to hold talks later yesterday at the German foreign ministry’s retreat before sitting down for dinner together.

Bahrain and the UAE became the first Arab nations to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. For the Mideast, the deals dubbed the Abraham Accords mark a distinct shift in the status quo where Arab countries have tried to maintain unity against Israel over its treatment of the stateless Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE had sealed the historic accords establishing full diplomatic ties with a ceremony at the White House. Maas called the Israel-UAE agreement the “first good news in the Middle East for a long time – and a chance for new movement in the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians”. “This opportunity must be seized,” said Maas, whose country currently holds the presidency of the EU, voicing the readiness of the bloc to help. – AFP

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