JERUSALEM — A senior Emirati official warned Wednesday that Israel's planned annexation of parts of the West Bank could lead Arab states to call for a single bi-national state for Israelis and Palestinians.
The Arab minister's remarks, delivered to an influential Washington think tank, struck a new setback to Israel's hopes of normalizing relations with the Arab world and added to the increasingly vocal international opposition to the Israeli annexation plan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the strategically important Jordan Valley. Such a unilateral move would dash Palestinian hopes of establishing a viable independent state.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to nearly 500,000 Israelis. The Palestinians seek the territory as the heartland of their future state. Most of the international community considers Israel's West Bank settlements illegal under international law.
Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates's minister of state for foreign affairs, told the Washington-based Middle East Institute that his country is committed to dialog and the two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. But he added that "ultimately, I personally believe that if we are going where we are going today, and we lose the possibility of really implementing a two-state solution, we will really be talking about equal rights and one state."
A binational state of Israelis and Palestinians would mean an end to Israel's goal of being a democracy with a solid Jewish majority.
Israel has cultivated close, but clandestine, ties with several Arab states, including the UAE, because of their shared concern about Iran. Those warming relations have manifested themselves publicly with Israeli ministers visiting the UAE, Israeli athletes attending sports events and some quiet business ties.
Israel only has formal diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, which also have both strongly criticized the annexation plan.
On Tuesday, Gargash told the American Jewish Committee that "the UAE is clearly against any annexation as being proposed by the current Israeli government."
Last Friday, Yousef Al Otaiba, the Gulf state's ambassador to the U.S., published an editorial in a leading Israeli newspaper warning that annexation of occupied territory would "upend" Israel's efforts to improve ties with Arab countries.
Also on Wednesday, Gargash said "less than 100" Emirati soldiers remain in Yemen amid a Saudi-led war on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that hold the capital, Sanaa.
The UAE began to withdraw in July 2019 from the yearslong war in the Arab world's poorest nation amid international criticism of a campaign that saw airstrikes kill civilians and prisoners tortured.