DUBAI, 24 February 2005 — An unprecedented visit to Jerusalem by a senior official from Dubai, during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other leaders, has caused an outcry in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Mohammed Al-Abbar, who was received last week in Ramallah by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also met briefly with Sharon and held talks with his deputy Shimon Peres over his offer to buy settler homes in the Gaza Strip.
It was the first publicly reported encounter between officials from the two countries which have no diplomatic relations.
Billionaire property magnate Abbar has offered to buy up all settler homes in the Gaza Strip, which are set for demolition after Israel pulls out its troops and 8,000 settlers from 21 settlements later this year.
He is chairman of Dubai-based property developer EMAAR properties, responsible for many of the emirate’s ambitious construction projects, and director of the Dubai government’s department of economic development.
“When Abbar dared to lead a foreign policy of his own ... this became totally unacceptable,” said an editorial Monday in Al-Ittihad newspaper, the official daily of the government of Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital.
“He wanted to embarrass the State of the Emirates by private contacts (with) the Israelis, which is irresponsible and unacceptable,” it said.
“It’s the first time in the history of our country, with its spotless record, that an individual dares, by such contact with Israel, to overrun the publicly announced policy of our country,” it added, hinting that Abbar should be punished.
Yesterday, Abbar’s moves were slammed by a private anti-Israeli group that nonetheless clearly reflects the position of the UAE authorities.
“This totally unjustified initiative is contrary to international law and Emirati federal law,” the Emirates National Committee Against Normalization with the Israeli Enemy, created in November 2000 by Emirati personalities, said in a statement.
Despite repeated calls, EMAAR and Abbar’s office did not wish to comment.
Last Friday, EMAAR said it had decided to form a new company — EMAAR Palestine — in the Palestinian Authority area, a move taken under the directives of Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad ibn Rashed Al-Maktoum, who is also UAE defense minister.
There was still no official reaction to the issue yesterday, either from the Dubai authorities or the federal government. And it is still not known whether Abbar went too far or if he was simply carrying out instructions.
According to a senior Emirati source in Abu Dhabi, quoted Tuesday by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, “in pushing contacts with Israeli officials, he (Abbar) went beyond the bounds of authorization set by the Emirati authorities.”
Abbar “was mandated neither by the local authorities of Dubai nor by the federal authorities to undertake such discussions” with the Israeli government, the source said.
For Mustafa Al-Ani, an analyst with the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, Abbar’s initiative will have no effect on an eventual normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.
Israeli media reported last June that the Jewish state had been holding extensive talks with UAE officials about opening a liaison office in Abu Dhabi, where an Emirati source promptly knocked down the story as “Israeli propaganda”.
“Only the federal government decides the foreign policy of the Emirates,” said Ani.
And where Abu Dhabi is concerned, “it is the establishment of a just and global peace which will promote such normalization, and not the contrary,” he added.