Oct 26, 2022 - World

Scoop: Emirati FM tells Netanyahu he is concerned about ultra-right coalition

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Benjamin Netanyahu

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Adam Berry/Michael Reynolds/Getty Images

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed (ABZ) during a recent trip to Israel expressed concerns to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu about the possibility of ultra-right extremists being included in a new government if he wins the upcoming elections, three sources briefed on the meeting told Axios.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's relationship with ABZ dates back to 2012. Eight years later, they signed a peace treaty between the two countries. It's seen as Netanyahu's biggest political achievement as prime minister.

Driving the news: Netanyahu will need the support of Jewish Power party leader Itamar Ben Gvir and his political partner, Bezalel Smotrich, in order to form a government if his right-wing bloc wins a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.

  • In such a scenario, both Jewish supremacists are expected to become ministers and members of the security cabinet.

Behind the scenes: During his visit to Israel last month, ABZ met Netanyahu and spoke to him for more than two hours, according to the sources briefed on the meeting. One of the main issues discussed was the upcoming elections.

  • The Emirati foreign minister told Netanyahu he was concerned politicians with radical right extremist views and rhetoric could be included in a new Israeli government, the sources said.
  • One of the sources said it appeared that ABZ was specifically referring to Ben Gvir.
  • Netanyahu listened to ABZ's concerns but didn't respond, the source said.
  • A different source briefed on the meeting said ABZ's message seemed to signal that the inclusion of radical right-wing elements in the government could influence the bilateral relationship.

What they're saying: An Emirati official told me they don't comment on private conversations and stressed the UAE respects the Israeli domestic political process and doesn’t get involved in it.

  • The official said the UAE’s relationship with Israel is long-term and strategic and the country wants to have good relations with the Israeli people as a whole.
  • Netanyahu's office declined to comment.

State of play: Ben Gvir and Smotrich lead the "Religious Zionism" list, which is expected to win 13-14 Knesset seats in the election, according to the latest polls. The list would become the third-largest party in the Israeli parliament.

  • It would also mark an unprecedented rise in power of the extreme right and could have a dramatic influence on the government if Netanyahu wins.
  • Smotrich, who has a history of making racist remarks about Arab citizens of Israel, recently announced he wants to be the defense minister, a role that also oversees Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank.
  • Ben Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism, said he wants to be the minister of internal security, a post that would also put him in charge of the Israeli policies around Jerusalem's holy sites, including the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Between the lines: The fact that Netanyahu is dependent on Ben Gvir and Smotrich to form a coalition and pass laws that can stop his corruption trial gives the two radical right-wing politicians a lot of leverage.

  • But many inside and outside of Israel, including U.S. politicians and the Biden administration, have expressed concerns about the possibility of their inclusion in any future Netanyahu government.
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