Israel Announces Partnership With U.A.E. to Fight the Coronavirus

Israel Announces Partnership With U.A.E. to Fight the Coronavirus

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel announced a new partnership with the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to cooperate in the fight against the coronavirus, the latest advance in the Jewish state’s efforts to build stronger ties with Arab states.

The partnership, announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an air force base near Tel Aviv, would represent a significant step toward normalization between two key United States allies in the Middle East.

“This will bring a blessing to many in our area,” he said. “The stronger we are, the more powerful we are at deterring our enemies and bringing our friends closer.”

Emirati officials did not immediately comment on the announcement.

The announcement, which fell well short of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, comes at a time when Israel is drawing up plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a move that Arab countries, including the Emirates, have said would thwart the improved relationships.

Mr. Netanyahu has vowed to annex up to 30 percent of the occupied West Bank as soon as July 1, a move that much of the world views as a violation of international law and a new barrier to the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

As recently as two weeks ago, the Emirates’ ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, wrote a landmark article in a leading Israeli newspaper warning Israelis directly that “annexation will definitely, and immediately, reverse all of the Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the United Arab Emirates.”

“It’s Either Annexation or Normalization,” the headline said.

The announcement of the new cooperation agreement on Thursday — without any public concession from Mr. Netanyahu on annexation — could indicate that Emirati leaders have decided to forge ahead with increased ties anyway. But it was unclear whether the Emirates had softened its position on annexation, or if it would scuttle the joint anti-virus program if Israel went ahead with annexation.

If confirmed by the Emirates, the public partnership would be a political coup for Mr. Netanyahu, who has sought to build ties with Arab countries without making progress on a peace accord with the Palestinians. While some Arab leaders reject the possibility of any ties with Israel, others have long considered an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement a prerequisite for any warming of ties.

Persian Gulf monarchies have shifted away from seeing Israel as the oppressor in its conflict with the Palestinians and instead view it as a valuable partner in trade, security and their rivalry with Iran.

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