UAE 'insulted' after Israel bars import of unpitted dates

UAE 'insulted' after Israel bars import of unpitted dates
This decision has upset the Emiratis, who have been importing dates for their embassy since the signing of the Abraham Accords.
3 min read
22 June, 2024
Dates are photographed hanging from a branch on a palm tree in the United Arab Emirates. [Christopher Pike/Bloomberg]

A shipment of dates with pits has caused friction between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

According to Israeli news outlet N12, Israel’s Agriculture Ministry banned the import of a 100 kg shipment of dates with pits from the UAE, stating that only dates without pits are permitted. 

The restriction has since led to protests from the Gulf nation, which has been exporting dates to Israel since the Abraham Accords normalisation deal in 2020.

N12 reported that the UAE sends dates monthly to the Israeli embassy and its ambassador’s residence — said to be "their most basic hospitality item in every meeting". 

The Israeli outlet reported that following the ban, Emirati officials have since contacted the Israeli Foreign Ministry to tackle the issue. 

However, the Israeli Agriculture Ministry has reiterated its ban by arguing that dates with pits risk agricultural setbacks and can only be imported with necessary checks. 

Israeli news publications have referenced a letter sent by Israel’s Director-General of the Agriculture Ministry to the UAE ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja. 

"Dates with pits cannot be imported to Israel, whereas pitted dates can be imported with appropriate approval," the ministry’s director-general Oren Lavi said. 

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The letter sees Lavi confirming to Al Khaji that dates with pits were imported and warned the ambassador to avoid doing so.  

The UAE’s Foreign Affairs Ministry called the ban a "deviation from diplomatic norms" and an "insult", according to a source at the Emirati Ministry who spoke to N12

Despite global outcry against Israel’s brutal war on Gaza since October, the UAE has maintained ties with Israel. 

The country has defended its normalisation with Israel as a diplomatic tool to negotiate for urgent humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the devastated territory. 

However, the oil-rich nation, alongside fellow Abraham Accords signatories Morocco and Bahrain, have decreased arms deals with Israel amid the ongoing conflict, according to a report by the Israeli Ministry of Defence. 

Israeli officials also told news agency Reuters last month that business ties with the UAE have either dwindled or not publicly announced. 

Additionally, other reports allege that the Emirati government’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been fractured, amid increasing global condemnation of his government.

They added that the UAE rarely communicates directly with Netanyahu and claimed that that Israeli President Isaac Herzog had been a key interlocutor in current Israel-UAE relations. 

The UAE has since engaged with former prime ministers Yair Lapid and Nafatali Bennet post-October 7 as Emirati frustrations at Netanyahu grew, the sources said. 

Last month, Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid met with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to discuss post-war Gaza and ongoing efforts for the release of Gaza-held captives.