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Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu cancels historic UAE trip, citing dispute with Jordan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to journalists Monday.
(Miriam Alster / Pool)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it called off his planned Thursday visit to the United Arab Emirates because of disagreements with the Jordanian government.

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that, “because of difficulties in coordinating his flight in Jordanian airspace, the visit was postponed” until further notice. It said the conflict stemmed from the cancellation of the Jordanian crown prince’s visit to a contested shrine in Jerusalem on Wednesday “due to a disagreement over the security and protection arrangements at the site.”

Jordan serves as the custodian of the Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II had planned to visit the site, home to Al Aqsa Mosque, but turned back at the King Hussein Bridge border crossing because of a dispute with Israeli authorities over the number of armed escorts who could accompany him, Israeli media reported.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said the crown prince had planned a private visit to join night prayers for the Muslim holy day marking the prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven. He said Israel had changed agreed-upon arrangements “at the last minute,” forcing the crown prince to call off the visit.

“His highness decided he did not wish to disrupt this peaceful night of prayer and decided to cancel his visit,” Safadi said at a Paris summit. “We cannot accept Israeli interference in the affairs of Al Aqsa.”

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Netanyahu’s office said that his historic planned visit to the United Arab Emirates, the first by an Israeli prime minister since the establishment of bilateral relations last year, would be rescheduled with Emirati authorities. The trip was meant to cement new diplomatic ties between the two Middle East nations and boost the embattled Israeli leader’s reelection hopes.

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Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, said the latest spat between Israel and Jordan reflected a deeper deterioration in relations in recent years.

“The major problem is there is no dialogue between the No. 1s in Jordan and Israel — that is to say, between the prime minister [Netanyahu] and the king of Jordan,” he said, adding that the two leaders are not known to have met or spoken for at least three years.

Eran said there was a lack of trust, highlighted by Israel’s plans last year to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel suspended the annexation plan as part of its agreement to establish ties with the Emirates, but Eran said the Jordanians remain deeply suspicious that Israel has not abandoned its intentions to annex the area.

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Jordan, which is home to a large Palestinian population, considers the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the neighboring West Bank to be a key interest, and Israel’s annexation of parts of the area would make Palestinian independence all but impossible.

Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

“At the least, they need a political process and movement toward a solution,” said Eran, now a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank. “The process itself is very important to the Jordanians, and when it is not there, there are certainly concerns with regard to the situation.”

Earlier in the day, the hospitalization of Netanyahu’s wife had cast doubt on whether the Emirates trip would take place. Sara Netanyahu was hospitalized Thursday with an appendix infection at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, the hospital said.

An official in Netanyahu’s office said she had felt unwell and was taken to the Hadassah Medical Center, where she will remain hospitalized for several days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Netanyahu is locked in a tight race against a field of challengers in Israel’s fourth election in two years and would have been sure to use the Emirates trip — 12 days before Israelis go to the polls — to his political advantage.

The Emirates became the third Arab nation — after Egypt and Jordan — to establish formal diplomatic ties with Israel in August.


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