View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Obama’s Request to UAE for Peace with Israel Would Bring Many Benefits

Steps to Peace
President Barack Obama has sent letters to the UAE and at least six other Arab and Gulf states seeking confidence-building measures toward Israel, and to get peace talks restarted.

A White House official told Foreign Policy (26 July 2009), when asked about the letters: "The president has always said that everyone will have to take steps for peace.

Further Motivation
There are other reasons for working to thaw this relationship and lift embargoes. Officially the UAE and Gulf States have no contact with Israel yet Sultan Sooud al Qassemi, Fellow at the Dubai School of Government, reveals to Bitterlemons International (23 July 2009) the links that are emerging and he asks whether there should be more contact for the sake of easing the life of Palestinians.

Two-Way Contact
Al Qassemi cites several examples of commercial interests and photographs and video clips showing the meeting of Gulf and Israeli politicians.

He mentions that Israel is moving toward the Arab Gulf States with the clearest example being its vote for the UAE to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Should not this gesture be reciprocated by some decisive new step towards Israel by the UAE?

Fault on Tennis Court
The denial of a visa earlier this year (15 February 2009) to the Israeli tennis player, Shahar Peer, meant that the UAE was hit with the wrath of international opinion, the Dubai Tennis Championships was smashed with a $300,000 fine (17 May 2009) and warned that in the future it could forfeit its right to host the international tennis championship.

Because Peer was blocked entry to the UAE, ESPN, the major television network, cancelled its coverage of the Dubai Championships.

The UAE’s position on this issue became murkier when, only a few days later, it allowed Israel’s Andy Ram entry to play in the Dubai Tennis Championships. The explanation about this reversal was unclear although an official did state that this decision was not to indicate “any form of normalization of relations with whom the UAE does not have diplomatic relations.” It was good to see the reversal of this decision for Andy Ram but as a general policy the matter remains uncertain and potentially a major problem for competition and conference organizers of international events in the UAE.

Blocking Trade and Trade Officials
Only three weeks after Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer was denied a visa, the UAE refused a visa to Sarah Younger, Israel’s representative on the International Chamber of Commerce’s Banking Commission for attending a conference in Dubai.

The issue of the trade boycott of Israeli goods by the UAE surfaced at the time when the Dubai Ports World failed to get the green light to run port facilities in several American cities. One article was entitled ‘Dubai Ports Firm Enforces Israel Boycott’, yet another article declared that the Dubai Port Company says it works with Israeli firms.

When US Senators discussed the question of the trade boycott, despite informal assurances that goods would flow freely, the official UAE law banning trade between the seven emirates and Israel, plus the fact that Israeli passport holders were not welcomed were responsible in large part for the deal not going through.

Visitors from Israel to UAE
There are conflicting reports on the Internet regarding visa entry requirements but this student guide is typical of many statements about UAE visa requirements:

1. The applicant should not be an Israeli citizen.
2. The applicant’s passport should not contain Israeli stamps.

The Emirates organization is also clear in its advice to visitors:

‘Nationals of ‘Israel’ may not enter the UAE.’

As has been shown with Israeli tennis players, this law is inconsistently applied. Furthermore, when the enrolment procedures in its new Abu Dhabi branch were questioned in relation to New York University’s proud tradition of anti-discrimination, the university leadership said that the restriction of Israeli students did not apply to their institution. The article on this discussion was entitled, ‘NYU Abu Dhabi Ignores Law Denying Israeli Entry into UAE’. Other international universities have decided to shelve or cancel their proposal to establish a campus in the UAE because they weren’t given the same freedom or because of their concerns about the discriminatory nature of this visa restriction.

Clarification Needed
The ad hoc lifting of the law for Andy Ram, the granting of exceptions as with the NYU-AD and the secret relationships between UAE and Israeli leaders still leaves cloudiness and uncertainty as to the UAE’s position with Israel. This needs clarification, the laws need to be changed, trade between Israel and Arab countries should be encouraged and the archaic and discriminatory visa prohibitions should be overturned.

If this important human rights matter is not addressed the UAE will continue to forfeit opportunities to hold significant international conferences and sporting competitions, such as the Olympic Games.

There are many benefits that will emerge from transforming the relationship between the UAE and Israel. The issues are similar around the Gulf and the UAE has a great opportunity to give a strong lead to the Arab Gulf states. However, Obama’s letter gets to the most important reason to stop the thaw, reopen talks and grow a positive relationship—the demands of Salaam.

The first word of greeting one hears in the United Arab Emirates is As-Salāmu `Alaykum (السلام عليكم). Likewise, people greet each other in Israel with the words Shalom aleichem (שלום עליכם). These greetings both mean ‘Peace be upon you’. They sound similar. The greeting (with a handshake and sometimes a kiss) conveys a depth of relationship—not the absence of war and conflict but positively working toward healthy relationships between people and the enjoyment of wellbeing that encompasses the environment in which we live.

Obama, Palestinians, settlement, visas, sporting events, trade….

The heart of Emirati and Israeli culture and faith is peace and this is the common ground upon which these two nations must tread.

Barack Hussein Obama Says Assalaamu Alaykum to Egypt and the World, ETE, 4 June 2009.
Obama in Egypt Calls for Religious Freedom, Interfaith Dialogue and Service, ETE, 4 June 2009.
Reflecting on the Richness of Salaam, ETE, 18 November 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: “The heart of Emirati and Israeli culture and faith is peace.”