JERUSALEM (AP) — Emirati leaders extended a long-sought invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend the U.N climate conference, known as COP28, in November.
The United Arab Emirates’ President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum also invited Israel’s figurehead President Isaac Herzog and dozens of other leaders including Syrian President Bashar Assad to COP28, in Dubai.
The Israelis did not immediately accept the invitation, but Netanyahu thanked the Emiratis for the gesture.
The invitation falls short of the high-profile bilateral visit Netanyahu has sought. But a trip to the Gulf Arab country would nonetheless give an important boost to the Israeli leader who has established official ties with the UAE as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between the two countries. Netanyahu has repeatedly called for closer ties with Arab countries across the region, but has yet to pay the UAE an official visit since the accords were signed.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, has sought to return to the world stage. to the world stage. Since returning to office late last year, he has made official visits to Italy, Germany and Britain.
He had hoped to visit the UAE shortly after his right-wing government took office, but the plan was postponed after national security minister and ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir last January visited the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The same site is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to Muslims. Such visits are widely viewed as provocations that could lead to new clashes between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The UAE condemned Ben-Gvir’s actions at the time. He visited the site again on Sunday, declaring Israel “in charge” and drawing renewed criticism from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the United States.
Netanyahu’s alliance with far-right figures like Ben-Gvir has drawn repeated criticism from close allies. He remains uninvited to visit U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, which some interpret as a White House snub. The U.S. administration has criticized Israel’s settlement policies in the occupied West Bank, Ben-Gvir’s visits to the disputed compound and the government’s push to overhaul Israel’s judiciary system.
The administration has said he’s likely to receive an invitation at some point.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been internationally ostracized during his country’s civil war, has also been invited after returning to the Arab League following a 12-year suspension.
The annual U.N. climate talks are designed to keep countries accountable to their pledges to cut down on carbon emissions.
In November, the talks in Dubai will be hosted by Sultan al-Jaber, the chief executive officer of the Emirates’ state oil company. Choosing the oil-rich emirate as well as al-Jaber to host the climate conference has drawn criticism from various environmental groups and activists.