Khaleej Times | 19 October 2021
Nine-month timeframe to sign agreement was set by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Yair Lapid, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs
The negotiations between UAE and Israel on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) is progressing as scheduled, and it will be signed within the 9-month timeframe set by the foreign ministers of the two countries in June 2021, Israel’s ambassador to the UAE told Emirates News Agency (WAM).
"I am very lucky to be the first Israeli ambassador here. For me, the sky is the limit [regarding the potential of bilateral relations]. In order to work and to improve [bilateral] trade figures, we need the CEPA," said Amir Hayek, who took charge as the first Israeli ambassador to the UAE last week, in his first media interview.
Israel opened its embassy in Abu Dhabi in June this year, headed by Eitan Naeh, who held the rank of Head of Mission. Naeh had been appointed in September as his country’s ambassador to Bahrain.
In an interview at the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi, Hayek said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Yair Lapid, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, in their meeting in Abu Dhabi on 30 June had set a 9-month timeframe to sign the CEPA.
A joint statement issued after the meeting said the two ministers signed an Agreement on Economic and Trade Cooperation. Both sides expressed that they are looking forward to signing a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, and they have commenced discussions on this matter, added the statement.
Hayek revealed that in a conversation with the Israeli Minister of Economy, Orna Barbivai, the latter expressed her commitment to the timeframe to sign the CEPA. "We are pushing, and we will [finish it] on time; I can assure you."
First visit to the UAE
Hayek never had the chance to visit the UAE in the past but felt at home after arriving here a week ago. "What I see is an amazing, beautiful, smart, warm, and fascinating country! We have close relations between our countries."
As a business leader, Hayek has worked as CEO in major Israeli companies, besides holding several senior positions at the Israeli government.
"I got a lot from my country. I got an education. I held senior positions in the Israeli government and outside the government. Now it’s my turn to give back. This is why I’m here; to be a part of what has been built between the leaders of our countries," he explained.
Reinstated visa exemption, Expo 2020 Dubai to boost tourism
Israel has reinstated visa-free travel for Emiratis as of October 10, which was put on hold due to Covid-induced travel restrictions, the envoy said.
As more than a quarter million Israeli tourists have already visited the UAE since the signing of Abraham Accords, the visa exemption and Expo 2020 Dubai will further increase this number, he said.
"First of all, Expo 2020 Dubai is happening for the first time in the region. Many Israelis are coming here to visit the event. This is a fascinating country and you have no other choice but to fall in love with it."
He explained that the global event will bring people together, drive business and enhance bilateral relations across the region and the world.
When asked about the potential UAE-Israel cooperation on international issues of mutual concern, the envoy said, "You can put a list of 100 topics that we can cooperate in. As a friendly country, we will talk with you and go forward with you anywhere. We are your friends and this is what’s important. So, I can give you a list of 100 topics. But by next week, it will grow to include 200 topics, and a week later, 400," he said, with an optimistic smile.
Everyone favours Abraham Accords in Israel "We don’t have any opposition in Israel to the Abraham Accords and to the relations between Israel and the UAE. Everyone is in favour from right to left. When our high level officials visit the UAE, we are turning them into ambassadors for UAE-Israel relations.
"This is one of our secrets. How to bring people and to make them supporters of the UAE and supporters of the UAE-Israel relations. This is our aim," he stressed.
The ambassador noted that four Israeli ministers and two deputy ministers visited the UAE last week.
"Four of them came to this region for the first time. They are pushing us to do more."