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UAE, Israel Tongue & Groove: Emiratis Get Israeli Visa Exemptions

United Arab Emirates (UAE) citizens will be able to stay in Israel for up to 90 days on a single visit, the Gulf power’s state news agency WAM said on Thursday, after it became the first Arab nation to reach a visa-exemption agreement with Israel.

“It’s a major step toward normalization of (ties with) Israel in the region,” says a security analyst based in Islamabad.

“An important step, subsequent to recognition and peace deal, to let businessmen have ease of movement and hence of business as such,” says a Pakistani envoy based in EU. “Would help UAE get commercial and financial strengthening, scientific research opportunities and real estate boom.”

The UAE and Bahrain formally established relations with Israel at a September 15 ceremony in the White House, becoming the first Arab states in more than a quarter of a century to break what had been a long-standing taboo in the region.

While Palestinians called the UAE-Israel travel ease a tacit assent to Israeli occupation, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin of the United States has said, These ties create a tremendous foundation for economic growth, opportunity, innovation and prosperity.”

Until recently, only Egypt and Jordan had full relations with Israel, but their nationals must still apply for entry permits. Some citizens of Arab states without formal ties have been admitted on a case-by-case basis for trade or pilgrimage.

Diplomatic sources say the application process helps Israel screen potential security threats. Pro-Palestinian sentiment is strong in Egypt and Jordan, which see relatively few tourist or business exchanges with their neighbor Israel.

Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said security “was a weighty issue and remains a weighty issue” in the decision to grant UAE citizens the same access Israel offers Western countries with which it has visa exemption arrangements.

“Happily there are other means of distinguishing terrorists from people who you explicitly know are peace-seekers coming here to do business or just tour around Israel,” he told Israel’s Army Radio without elaborating.

While the rapprochement has uncorked bilateral commerce, and has been decried by Palestinians, it has been cast by the Gulf states as consistent with values of coexistence and progress.

“I need a permit issued by the Israeli military to visit Jerusalem,” Salem Barahmeh, who leads the Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy, wrote on Twitter. “The city I was born in. But now an Emirati can go visa-free because two warmongering, human rights abusing regimes made a deal together for weapons. Does this sound just to you?”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said, “the peace agreement among our peoples is enormous, it’s real, it’s broad, it’s deep.”

An Israeli diplomat told Reuters visa exemptions are “not on the cards” with Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim minority rules a Shia majority and which has seen protests against the accord with Israel.