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Esawi Frej, Israel Minister of Regional Cooperation, speaks exclusively to Gulf News during his visit to Israel Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on 11th October 2021. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: Another high-ranking Israeli minister visited the UAE for the first time and said his visit was aimed at strengthening the people-to-people relationship between the UAE and Israel, and to “prove to Arab states that the Abraham Accords is the right way to build a new horizon for the region.”

Speaking exclusively to Gulf News on Monday at the Israel Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, Esawi Frej, Israel Minister of Regional Cooperation, said: “It’s a pleasure to be here to see this huge global event. I came here to give my part to show how people can be together. We have an agreement at the government level — the Abraham Accords — and our role now is to make it (pact) go down people to people.”

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“That is why it is very important for us to visit here and for Emiratis to visit Israel to show to the region the benefits of Abraham Accords,” he added.

The UAE and Israel formally signed the Abraham Accords in September 2020 that normalised the relations between the two countries. Frej said the agreement is founded on common values to connect people and overcome regional challenges while benefiting from shared opportunities.

Building bridges

Prior to Frej’s visit, Yoel Razvozov, Israeli Minister of Tourism, also visited Expo 2020 Dubai last week. He likewise spoke exclusively to Gulf News and said tourists will form “human bridges between UAE and Israel”.

Frej’s purview, meanwhile, is more focused on regional cooperation and how to bring forward the Abraham Accords to more Arab states. He said he is speaking not only on the political but also on the personal level as he is only the second Arab Muslim minister in the modern history of Israel government.

Frej’s mission is also to connect the youth in the region. He noted: “In order to secure the future, we should make the youth (in the region) meet and connect with each other.”

‘The right way’

Frej reiterated that Abraham Accords is “the right way”. He underlined: “I hope in the future we can see the Palestinians as part of this dream. Now, Abraham Accords is a reality. The UAE and Israel are together and our relationship is going stronger. It’s not a dream; it’s a reality. Our main goal now to prove that this is the right way to be together. Together we can make good future for the entire region.”

During the interview, Frej said he visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah this week. His party, Meretz, is a proponent of the wo-state solution.

“The economy of Israelis and Palestinians are the same,” Frej told Gulf News, adding: “The Abraham Accords is a brave step for the leaders of this region and this is the first step to give a better future for all of us. I think Abraham Accords will also make the Palestinian economy to become stronger. I think the projects that we will have in the future with Gulf states and with Israel will also support and help the Palestinian people.”

“In Israel, the Arab society makes up 17 per cent of the population. I believe in order to have peace outside our borders, we need to have peace inside our country. This is our goal — the Arab-Israelis will be the bridge between my country, Israel, and all the states in the region. This is my hope and the future I look forward to.”

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Esawi Frej, Israel Minister of Regional Cooperation, speaks exclusively to Gulf News during his visit to Israel Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on 11th October 2021. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Israel’s second Arab Muslim minister

Esawi Frej assumed the position as Israel Minister of Regional Cooperation since June 2021. He is only the second Arab Muslim minister in the modern history of Israel government.

Frej entered the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral parliament and supreme state assembly, in 2013 as Meretz (left-wing, social-democratic and green political party) representative.

Frej has served in various roles, including Knesset deputy speaker, and has been a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Economics Committees. He also served as member of the Hebrew University Executive Council, Peace Now secretariat, a member of the Geneva Initiative Council, and a board member of the Tzavta Theater in Tel Aviv.

Frej is the founder of a forum that promotes Jewish-Arab business entrepreneurship. He was said to be instrumental in the appointment of Hanaa Khateeb, the first woman Qadi (Muslim judge) to the Israel’s religious court system. Frej is an accountant by profession and a native of Kafr Qasim. He is married and a father of seven.