The Israeli Pavilion on the Dubai Expo 2020 is scheduled for October 7. But even before its opening, it has become an important platform for strengthening diplomatic ties between the two countries. Three Israeli ministers visited the United Arab Emirates in connection with the exhibition. Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked have already completed their travels, and Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov will inaugurate the Israeli pavilion in Dubai on Thursday.
The two Israeli ministers wasted no time in the Emirates. Zandberg arrived on October 4 for a meeting with Emirati Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Mariam Almheiri, to discuss cooperation on environmental projects. She said after the meeting: “In July, we signed a series of agreements on the environment and climate in Israel, and today we met at the Expo Dubai for our first work meeting to break it down into projects. We have many shared challenges and many shared opportunities.” In a tweet, Zandberg referred to Almheiri as “my friend.”
Zandberg also met with Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, the director of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency. The two women discussed recycling, single-use plastics, air quality, biodiversity and many other topics. Zandberg said at the meeting:, “Israel is in a unique geographic location and shares many challenges with Gulf countries. The climate crisis threatens both our national security and the rest of the world. We need to prepare for it and also find solutions, including a transition to a zero-carbon economy, while supporting the weaker populations.” She added: “Israel has an important role to play in global efforts to prepare for and combat the climate crisis. Regional cooperation is key.”
Zandberg told Al-Monitor today: “Israel shares many challenges with the Gulf States and we have great experience developing innovative solutions to address the challenges of living in a desert environment. I look forward to working with the UAE, from climate mitigation and adaptation to solutions for circular economy, marine environment protection and biodiversity conservation.” The minister added that cooperation will be beneficial not only for the environment, human health and quality of life, but also for the economies of the two nations, saying: “Peace offers an opportunity to improve the environment, society and to strengthen the economies of the two countries and to work together for a common future.”
The interior minister’s journey to the Emirates was even more interesting, given Shaked’s position as a secular female minister in the mixed secular-religious Yamina party and with strong right-wing, anti-Palestinian convictions. Over the years, Shaked has clashed several times with Arab lawmakers, most notably those of the Islamist party Ra’am. But now that she’s in a coalition with Ra’am, she doesn’t make these kinds of comments anymore. During the coalition negotiations, she even personally met Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas.
Shaked visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai almost like a head of state. Judging by the ceremonial reception, her hosts consider her one of Israel’s top politicians. Upon arrival, she visited the Wahat Al Karama memorial site for Emirati soldiers. They laid a wreath at the Martyr’ Monument there and then toured the complex, which consists of 31 panels supported by each other as a symbol of Emirati solidarity. Her Emirati counterpart, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, accompanied her and explained the different parts of the monument.
Later, the two ministers discussed visa-free travel between the countries that will come into effect on October 10 after delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Shaked said the Emirates is “an advanced and moderate nation and Israel can learn a lot from it.” She also said Nahyan made her suggestions for dealing with challenges related to Israel’s Bedouin population.
The two ministers also discussed interfaith cooperation. Shaked’s ministry controls the appointment of Muslim imams in Arab places and employs about 300 imams and muezzins in mosques across the country. According to Israel Hayom, Shaked and Nahyan discussed “a number of initiatives to improve cooperation between the two countries, including interfaith projects in the interest of strengthening religious communities in the two countries and promoting interfaith dialogue.” Shaked would propose to “strengthen the training and education of Islamic Imams, who are citizens of Israel, in the Emirates in the areas of religious moderation, tolerance and the fight against violence.”
Shaked invited Nahyan to visit Israel to participate in a “joint interfaith prayerwill be held next month. She also visited Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. on a photo posted on social mediaDuring her visit to the mosque, Shaked can be seen modestly dressed with a headscarf – not an everyday image.