The United Arab Emirates has decided to allow Israeli passport holders to enter the Gulf state following the opening of the 2020 World Expo (also known as the World’s Fair) in October of next year. Organizers confirmed to Israeli officials that the UAE would now allow Israeli tourists to visit the country and attend the exhibition.
Israeli media has reported extensively in recent days with praise for the Gulf state’s decision. The registered (universal) version of the Expo takes place every five years and each participating country is entitled to display its innovations and inventions. Israel is considered the “Start-up Nation” and will surely receive much attention from visitors and local organizers at its booth in the Muslim country less than a year from now.
This is an historical event being the first time that a Gulf state has opened its doors for Israeli passport holders. The UAE has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, though many Israelis who hold foreign passports have been allowed to visit for business purposes. There have also been some Israeli passport holders allowed to visit the Muslim country with special visas. For example, several Israeli teams were allowed to compete in sporting events where they even won medals, resulting in the Israeli anthem, Hatikvah, being played there.
We all also remember the visit of the Prime Minister Netanyahu a year ago with his wife and the head of the Mossad to Oman, where they received a king’s welcome. Or when Minister of Sport and Culture Miri Regev shed tears when the Israeli flag was lifted in the arena and the Israeli national anthem was played in Abu Dhabi after Israeli judoka Sagi Muki took the gold medal in the International Grand Slam last year. A number of other Israeli ministers have traveled to Gulf states as well in recent years. But this will be the first time that average Israeli tourists will be granted entry.
For many years, relations between Israel and the Gulf states were conducted behind the scenes, but recently this has begun to change significantly. The UAE has been trying to improve its image in the eyes of the West, and particularly towards the Jewish people. In recent months, the Emirates stunned the world by announcing plans to build the first synagogue on its soil. The few dozen Jews who live permanently in the Muslim country are registered as foreign nationals.
There are no real disputes between Israel and the Gulf states that can justify hostility or lack of diplomatic relations. There are no geographic or historical conflicts, and there has never been a war between the countries. On the contrary, before the creation of the State of Israel, relations between local tribes in the Gulf area and Jews throughout the region were warm. There have even been ties between the Zionist movement and the controlling families of the Gulf kingdoms. For example, the Faisal-Weizmann agreement was signed in 1919 between the head of the Zionist Movement, Chaim Weizmann, and Emir Faisal, son of King Hussein of Hejaz, in London promising the Jews a homeland in Palestine.
Today, the only thing hampering relations between Israel and any Arab country is the “Palestinian issue.” The PLO has made sure since the 1960’s until today to portray any Arab country that conducts diplomatic relations with Israel as treacherous. In the eyes of the West, the Palestinian “suffering” has been the most important issue in the Middle East. Over time, however, this issue is losing credence. The greatest proof of this was the decision by two of our neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, to sign peace agreements with Israel. It seems that more-and-more, Arab leaders are keeping a cooler head in response to the hostile emotions of the Arab street, and instead conducting themselves according to the pragmatic interests of their countries. And that’s good for Israel.