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UAE formally ends Israel boycott under U.S.-brokered deal

Women walk past United Arab Emirates and Israeli flags
Women walk past United Arab Emirates and Israeli flags at the Peace Bridge in Netanya, Israel, on Aug. 16. The UAE flag was displayed to celebrate the agreement by Israel and the UAE to establish full diplomatic relations.
(Ariel Schalit / Associated Press)

The ruler of the United Arab Emirates issued a decree Saturday formally ending the country’s boycott of Israel under a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations between the two countries.

The announcement now allows trade and commerce between the UAE, home to oil-rich Abu Dhabi and skyscraper-studded Dubai, and Israel, home to a thriving diamond trade, pharmaceutical companies and tech start-ups.

The announcement further cements the Aug. 13 deal opening up relations between the two nations, which required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians. But Palestinians so far have criticized the accord as undercutting one of its few bargaining chips with Israelis in moribund peace negotiations.

The state-run WAM news agency said the decree ending the boycott came on the orders of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the Emirates’ leader.

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WAM said the new decree allows Israelis and Israeli firms to do business in the UAE, a U.S.-allied federation of seven sheikdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. It also allows for the purchase and trade of Israeli goods.

“The decree of the new law comes within the UAE’s efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel,” WAM said. It lays out “a road map toward launching joint cooperation, leading to bilateral relations by stimulating economic growth and promoting technological innovation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the decree. “This is an important step toward advancing peace and prosperity in the region,” he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement the UAE decision “is an important step towards peace, which will yield substantial economic and commercial achievements for both people while strengthening the stability in the region.”

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Already, some Israeli firms had signed deals with Emirati partners. But the repeal of the law widens the likelihood of other joint ventures, such as in aviation, banking and finance.

Dubai International Airport, home to the long-haul carrier Emirates airline, has been the world’s busiest for international travel for years. The Dubai International Financial Center also hosts major firms whose shares trade in the hours between Asian and European markets. Dubai already has a major gold market and growing diamond trade.

Emirati firms likely also want access to Israeli technological know-how. Some already had even before the deal — with the cybersecurity firm DarkMatter reportedly hiring Israeli military-trained hackers.

On Monday, the first direct commercial flight by Israel’s flagship carrier El Al is expected in Abu Dhabi, carrying U.S. and Israeli officials including President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner. Telephone calls already can be made between the nations.

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The decree eliminates a 1972 law on the UAE’s books since just after the country’s formation. That law mirrored the widely held stance by Arab nations at that time that recognition of Israel would only come after Palestinians had an independent state of their own.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, criticized the UAE’s decree Saturday as undercutting the efforts of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. Israel has accused BDS activists of seeking to delegitimize its existence.

“While #BDS is proving to be an effective tool of peaceful resistance & responsible, ethical investment & consumer responsibility to hold Israel to account, this happens!” Ashrawi wrote on Twitter.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has governed the Gaza Strip since seizing it in 2007, has reiterated its rejection of the UAE-Israel deal and the ending of the boycott.

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The decree “boosts the normalization with the Israeli occupation and legitimizes it on the Palestinian land,” Hamas official Bassem Naim said.

The decree shows the UAE’s eagerness to advance ties and maximize its potential benefits such as trade amid an economic slowdown, said Elham Fakhro, the senior Persian Gulf analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“The decision sends a clear message that the UAE is committed to its decision to normalize relations with Israel,” Fakhro said. “It does also raise questions about possible repercussions for anyone in the country calling for the boycott of Israeli goods, now that doing so contradicts the state policy.”

The UAE is becoming the third Arab nation after Egypt and Jordan to currently have diplomatic relations with Israel.

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