After years of talking via intermediaries, Netanyahu and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met discreetly following the former’s invitation, entering the hotel via an underground parking lot and special service elevator.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the Israeli prime minister’s hotel room in New York in September 2012.
Netanyahu and bin Zayed saw eye to eye on the Iranian nuclear issue, but the foreign minister told Netanyahu his country could not warm up its relations with Israel as long as there was no progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, said two senior Western diplomats who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The meeting was held on September 28, 2012, during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. A day earlier, Netanyahu gave his “red line” speech about stopping Iranian nuclear weapons production. During the speech, Netanyahu said the international community must set a red line for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and prevent it from obtaining enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon.
Meetings between Netanyahu and senior officials from states in the Gulf have been very rare since the Israeli prime minister began his second term in 2009.
Netanyahu initiated the meeting. Since reentering the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009, he has tried to arrange meetings with senior officials from Gulf states, with which Israel has no official diplomatic relations, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. The killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior commander in Hamas’ military wing, in Dubai in January 2010 – which local police attributed to the Mossad – created a great deal of tension between Israel and the Emirates, and made arranging such a meeting impossible for almost two years.
The sources said bin Zayed only agreed to the meeting after a long period during which Netanyahu sent messages to senior UAE leaders through intermediaries. The meeting was held in the Loews Regency Hotel on the corner of East 61st Street and Park Avenue, where Netanyahu was staying during his visit, according to Haaretz.
The UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, accompanied bin Zayed to the meeting, said the two Western diplomats. They entered the hotel very discretely through the underground parking lot and were taken upstairs to Netanyahu’s suite on one of the hotel’s top floors in a service elevator.
Israel’s then-National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror was with Netanyahu during the meeting, along with the prime minister’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Johanan Locker. The meeting was friendly and dealt mostly with the Iranian nuclear issue, bit also touched on the Palestinians, said the diplomats, who received reports of the session. Bin Zayed expressed his appreciation for Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly, and the two agreed on quite a large number of issues concerning the question of a nuclear Iran.
At the same time, with regard to the Palestinians, bin Zayed pushed Netanyahu to make progress and made it clear his country supports the Arab League peace plan. One of the foreign minister’s main messages to Netanyahu was that the UAE was interested in improving relations with Israel but could not do so, especially not publicly, as long as the peace process with the Palestinians remained frozen, said the two diplomats.
A senior Israeli official heard the same message just last year. In September 2016, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni participated in a small lunch in New York with bin Zayed as the guest of honor. During the meal, he said his country and other Gulf states wanted to improve their relations with Israel, but could not takes steps toward normalization until Israel demonstrated a true desire for progress toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
The UAE’s stance concerning relations with Israel and the Palestinian issue has not changed amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s and Netanyahu’s talks about their wishes to promote a regional peace initiative in conjunction with Arab countries, said the diplomats.
Reports in the American media say that Netanyahu has been continuing his contacts with UAE leadership through the Israeli ambassador to Washington for the past four years, Ron Dermer, who is considered to be very close to the Israeli prime minister. Dermer has a close working relationship with Otaiba and the two see eye to eye on almost every issue, except for the Palestinians, stated an article in the Huffington Post two years ago.