UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash, in a historic public appearance by a senior Arab government official before a global Jewish organization, today addressed the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Virtual Global Forum.
Gargash and other senior UAE officials have welcomed AJC delegations on regular visits to the Gulf state for more than 20 years. “AJC has been a quite remarkable bridge for the region. The fruit of AJC work has been impressive and substantive,” he said.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer, the minister commented on the Gulf state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, regional security challenges, possible relations with Israel, ties to the United States, and what he sees as opportunities to resolve conflicts in a post-COVID-19 world.
“The pandemic will not change the fundamentals of regional politics,” but the experience of cooperation among nations dealing with the pandemic opens opportunities to de-escalate tensions and resolve conflicts through diplomacy, he said. In this, Gargash spoke specifically about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ongoing threats from neighboring Iran.
The UAE’s pragmatic foreign policy is reflected in its approach to Israel. “I think we can have a political disagreement with Israel and try to bridge other differences,” said Gargash.
“We have no relationship with Israel, but the pandemic is an area where we have to cooperate together because it affects human beings,” he said. Working with Israel through the UN to get help to the Palestinians “doesn’t change our position regarding the issue of the day – annexation.”
Among Arab countries, Gargash said the UAE is not a trailblazer in engaging Israel. “The reality is you have major countries in the region that have normal diplomatic relations with Israel – Turkey, Egypt, Jordan – and other countries in the Gulf area dealing with Israel in various capacities,” he said.
But he made clear that the UAE is part of the Arab consensus that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UAE favors Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve peace and opposes any annexation of West Bank territory.
On the UAEs handling of COVID-19, the minister said developing and activating a plan as early as January was key. “We benefited from foresight. At the end of January we saw a challenge on the horizon in China.”
The UAE’s established hubs in business and transportation, plus prioritizing philanthropy in its foreign policy, enabled the UAE to deliver testing kits and personal protective equipment to some 70 countries worldwide. “Philanthropy is part and parcel of our foreign policy. The UAE ranks highest in percent of GDP in contributing to other countries,” he said.
The UAE approach internationally also reflects the country’s tradition for tolerance of other faiths and ethnicities. “I grew up in small town that today is the city of Dubai. There was a church, a Hindu Temple, communities of Christians and Hindus. I don’t remember growing up in a one faith town,” said Gargash. “The Middle East region, the Arab world, should be more tolerant of diversity. Demonizing the other has not helped.”
On UAE relations with the United States, the minister emphasized that “America is our main and most important strategic ally. We want to see an America engaged in the region. When the U.S. is engaged, we are better.”
Whoever is president, he continued, keeping America engaged in the region is important. He stressed that the UAE does not want the U.S. involved in another war in the region, but does see the U.S. as a deterrent against threats, such as Iran, keeping sea lanes open and oil flowing. “America is a pillar of stability,” he said.
The AJC Global Forum is the global Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event. Originally scheduled to take place this week in Berlin, Germany, the venue was changed to an online meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 7,500 people have now registered for the AJC Virtual Global Forum, June 14-18.