UAE ambassador meets with extreme-right Israeli leader Smotrich

UAE ambassador meets with extreme-right Israeli leader Smotrich
UAE envoy Mohamed Al-Khaja and extremist Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich 'discussed Israel-UAE ties and the promotion of peace and normalisation with other countries in the region', an Israeli statement said.
3 min read
09 December, 2022
Extremist politician Bezalel Smotrich is chair of Israel's Religious Zionism bloc [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty-archive]

Extremist Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich met the UAE's ambassador to Israel on Wednesday, days after he was pictured with another far-right politician, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Mohamed Al-Khaja and Smotrich, chair of the Religious Zionism bloc, "discussed Israel-UAE ties and the promotion of peace and normalisation with other countries in the region", an Israeli statement said.

Smotrich, who is expected to become finance minister in Israel's incoming coalition government, said in a statement that "Israel should deepen its economic ties with the UAE".

"The economic cooperation between our two countries offers tremendous potential for both sides and the entire region," he added.

Al-Khaja and Smotrich, who has said his economic strategy will be inspired by Jewish law laid out in the Torah, met at the far-right politician's parliamentary office.

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The meeting came after the UAE's ambassador to Israel "warmly welcomed" Ben-Gvir, a figure known for his racist statements against Palestinians and Arabs, at a reception hosted by the Emirati embassy in Tel Aviv last week.

This took place despite UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed reportedly warning against Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, another Religious Zionism leader, becoming part of Israel's next government on a trip to the country in September.

According to a source cited by The Times of Israel, bin Zayed cautioned Benjamin Netanyahu not to include the two extremist leaders in a potential government led by him.

Netanyahu was asked to establish a coalition government after the 1 November Israeli election and is now expected to return as prime minister, with Ben-Gvir set to become national security minister.

Al-Khaja was seen clasping hands with Ben-Gvir at a reception at the Hilton Hotel last week, where Netanyahu gave a speech to Israeli and Emirati officials which ended with the Arabic word "inshallah", meaning "God willing".

Israeli media described the meeting between Al-Khaja and Ben-Gvir as "warm" and photos showed the two exchanging words and shaking hands.

Ben-Gvir is expected to be given the position of national security minister in Netanyahu's new Israeli government.

The UAE and Israel signed a controversial normalisation agreement in 2020, despite the continued occupation of the West Bank and siege of the Gaza Strip.

The deal was almost universally slammed by Arab public opinion. Three other Arab states also normalised ties with Israel that year.

Reuters contributed to this report.