Blinken to meet with Israel, UAE diplomats
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet next week with top diplomats from Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said Saturday, to discuss "progress made" in the year since they agreed to normalisation.
"Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on October 13 in separate bilateral meetings and then in a trilateral setting," the State Department said in a statement.
"They will discuss progress made since the signing of the Abraham Accords last year, future opportunities for collaboration, and bilateral issues including regional security and stability."
Blinken had met virtually in mid-September with Lapid and top Emirati foreign policy adviser Anwar Gargash, as well as top diplomats from Bahrain and Morocco.
The meeting amounted to a full embrace by President Joe Biden of the so-called Abraham Accords, which his predecessor Donald Trump considered a key foreign policy legacy but was met with outrage and protests across the Arab world.
Opinion polls showed that the overwhelming majority of respondents in the Arab world were opposed to the the normalisation deals.
"This administration will continue to build on the successful efforts of the last administration to keep normalisation marching forward," Blinken said at the time.
He said that normalisation has benefitted the people of the region and helps to address broader challenges including terrorism and climate change.
Lapid - like Blinken, representing a new administration after the accord forged by a right-wing government - said he would pay a first visit to Bahrain later in September. He had already visited the other two Arab states.
"This Abraham Accords club is open for new members," Lapid said.
The United Arab Emirates last year became the first Arab state to normalise relations with Israel since Egypt and Jordan decades earlier, with Bahrain and Morocco following suit soon afterward.
The United Arab Emirates agreed to normalisation after Israel's then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed away from the prospect, blessed by Trump, of annexing vast swaths of the West Bank.
Eliav Benjamin, head of the ministry’s Middle East and Peace Process Division, told reporters in a briefing on Wednesday that Israel is in contact with countries across the region in a bid to arrange new normalisation agreements.
"We're speaking basically to all countries in the region, in the Middle East and North Africa… They each have to decide when will be the right time for them and how to go about it," he said, according to Times of Israel.
"We're speaking to all of them, Oman as well… we have ongoing cooperation."
Israel used to have an official mission in Muscat that was opened after the Oslo Accords and it still participates in a multilateral project with Oman, Jordan, and other countries in the region on water cooperation.
He said he feels optimistic about normalisation prospects with Oman and "other countries".
I really hope that when we meet this time next year, if not before, we will be able to talk about other countries that have joined," he said.
The statement comes a day after Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Israel was negotiating new normalisation agreements with unnamed countries.
Oman Sultan Haitham bin Tariq's reign seems promising to Israel, Benjamin explained, due to his instrumental role in helping Muscat and Israel warm relations under the reign of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died in January.
However, Oman has repeatedly said it will not normalise ties with Israel before Palestinians are granted a state of their own.
This is something that Israel's interior minister ruled out during a visit to the UAE earlier this week.
"The Israeli government won’t deliberate on the establishment of a Palestinian state under the present government of Bennett or Lapid when he comes into office under the rotational agreement," Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told Emirati media.