Where are the Gulf Arab tourists? Israel’s hopes fall short

JERUSALEM: A nation that had been ostracized from the Middle East for a long time felt an electrifying sense of accomplishment when Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached an agreement to begin diplomatic ties in 2020.
Israel’s new ties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, officials insisted, would go beyond governments and become social pacts that would encourage mass tourism and friendly exchanges between people who had been at odds for a long time.
Be that as it may, north of a long time since the cutting edge concurs, the normal surge of Bay Bedouin travelers to Israel has been minimal in excess of a stream. According to the Israeli Tourism Ministry, since coronavirus travel restrictions were lifted last year, only 1,600 Emirati citizens have visited Israel, despite the fact that more than half a million Israelis have traveled to oil-rich Abu Dhabi and skyscraper-studded Dubai.
Because “the numbers are too small,” the ministry does not know how many Bahrainis have visited Israel.
“It’s as yet an exceptionally peculiar and delicate circumstance,” said Mursi Hija, top of the discussion for Arabic-talking local escorts in Israel. ” The Emiratis have the impression that their arrival here was a mistake.
According to experts, the Abraham Accords’ limitations and Israel’s long-standing image issue in the Arab world are reflected in the absence of Emirati and Bahraini tourists.
According to a survey conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American think tank, the popularity of the agreements in the UAE and Bahrain has decreased since the deals were signed, despite the fact that bilateral trade between Israel and the UAE increased from $11.2 million in 2019 to $1.2 billion in 2018.
In the UAE, support tumbled to 25 percent from 47% over the most recent two years. Only 20% of the population in Bahrain supports the agreement, down from 45% in 2020. Israel and Gaza militants engaged in a devastating war, and violence in the occupied West Bank reached all-time highs.
Gulf Arab tourism to Israel, according to Israeli officials, is a missing component that would extend the agreements beyond security and diplomatic ties. The first two nations to reach peace with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, also attract virtually no tourists.
We must motivate Emiratis to attend for the first time. According to Amir Hayek, the Israeli ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, “it’s an important mission.” Tourism must be promoted so that people can get to know and understand each other.
Israeli the travel industry authorities traveled to the UAE last month in a promoting push to get the news out that Israel is a protected and appealing objective. According to the ministry, it is currently promoting Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial and entertainment capital, as a significant draw for Emiratis.
According to tour operators, betting on Jerusalem has failed thus far. Emiratis and Bahrainis have been disenchanted by the tumult in the disputed city, and some of them have faced opposition from Palestinians who view normalization as a betrayal of their cause. The Arab world gives the Palestinian struggle for independence from Israel a lot of support.
Dan Feferman, director of Sharaka, a group that encourages human-to-human exchanges between Israel and the Arab world, stated, “There’s still a lot of hesitation coming from the Arab world.” They anticipate that Israel will be a site of conflict and discrimination. Sharaka said that after leading two trips to Israel for Bahrainis and Emiratis, he had difficulty finding more Gulf Arab citizens interested in visiting.
According to Hija, their tour guide, a group of Emirati and Bahraini social media influencers who visited the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in 2020 were spit on and pelted with shoes in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, issued a religious edict against Emiratis visiting the mosque under Israeli supervision when another group of Emirati officials visited the flashpoint site accompanied by Israeli police.
The majority of Emiratis and Bahrainis who have visited Israel claim that they do not wear their national attire or headscarves to avoid being noticed.
The mosque’s administration, the Islamic Waqf, declined to discuss the number of Emirati and Bahraini visitors and how they were treated at the compound.
The holy esplanade is not the only place where Palestinians feel rage toward Emiratis. According to Emirati citizens who are visiting Israel to study there, they receive numerous online threats and death threats.
Sumaiiah Almehiri, an Emirati student at the University of Haifa who is studying to be a nurse and is 31 years old and hails from Dubai, stated, “Not everyone can handle the pressure.” I didn’t give in to the threats, but a lot of Emiratis are afraid to go.
Gulf Arabs may also leave Israel out of fear of anti-Arab racism. Israeli police erroneously captured two Emirati travelers in Tel Aviv the previous summer while chasing an out an after a criminal hit and run assault. Some Emiratis have griped via online entertainment about drawing undesirable investigation from security authorities at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Air terminal.
Hija stated, “If you bring them here and don’t treat them with compassion, they won’t come back and will tell all of their friends to stay away.”
Netanyahu, who was elected prime minister for the sixth time last week, has promised to strengthen agreements with Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan. After a military coup and the lack of a parliament to ratify the US-brokered normalization deal with Israel, formal ties with Sudan remain elusive.
Netanyahu also hopes to expand the group of nations and reach a similar agreement with Saudi Arabia as he was the main architect of the agreements.
However, experts are concerned that his new government, which is the most ultranationalist and religiously conservative in Israel’s history, may even jeopardize the agreements and further discourage tourists from the Gulf Arab region. His government has promised to expand settlements in the West Bank and to annex the entire territory, both of which were put on hold as part of the initial agreement with the UAE.
Expert on Gulf Arab states at the University of Haifa in Israel, Moran Zaga, stated, “We have a reason to be worried about any deterioration in relations.”
Gulf Arab governments have so far provided no cause for concern.
The Emirati minister was shot heartily embracing Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of the alliance’s most extreme individuals, at a public day festivity last month. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the leader of the United Arab Emirates, also called Netanyahu over the weekend to congratulate him and invite him to visit.
The situation is different for those outside of the officialdom.
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a well-known Emirati political scientist, posted on Twitter, “I hope that Netanyahu and those with him will not set foot on the land of the Emirates.” I think it’s right to temporarily freeze the Abraham Accords.

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