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On Path To Normalize Relations, UAE Formally Ends Boycott Of Israel

The ruler of the United Arab Emirates has formally ended the country's boycott of Israel, marking one more step toward normalized relations between the two countries following a U.S.-brokered deal earlier this month.

Emirati ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued the decree on Saturday, allowing trade and commerce between the oil-rich nation and the longtime U.S. ally.

The UAE's state-run WAM news agency said the decree allows Israelis and Israeli firms to officially do business with the federation of seven sheikdoms, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, the WAM said the decree provides "a roadmap toward launching joint cooperation, leading to bilateral relations by stimulating economic growth and promoting technological innovation."

The decree formally ends a 1972 law establishing a boycott, a common policy towards Israel in the Arab world for its treatment of Palestinians.

The decree puts the UAE one step further on the path to normal ties with Israel and follows the Aug. 13 announcement that President Trump and the leaders of the two countries had established a deal to do so.

Only two Arab nations — Egypt and Jordan — currently have normal diplomatic ties to Israel.

Prior to the diplomatic breakthrough, the two countries had kept informal security and economic ties, albeit quietly.

Avi Barssessat, an Israel-based seller of luxury mattresses, told NPR that he had been routing his products through Slovakia to skirt the official boycott. He said he recently phoned his Emirati distributor at the promise of normal relations.

"I said, you should pack your suitcase because you're able to come to visit my factory. It will happen very soon, I promise you," he said.

Israeli airline El Al is scheduled to make its first direct commercial flight to the UAE on Monday with a passenger list including Israeli officials and President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Kushner is visiting the region to hammer out details of the UAE and Israeli relationship.

Optimism in high among some UAE residents, Emirati journalist Mahmood Alawadi told NPR.

"A lot of my friends and families, they said enough is enough. They say, we want economy. We want to stability in the region. Enough hatred,"Alawadi said.

Though supported by leaders in both countries, the deal has had its detractors. Palestinians have voiced dismay at the break with the established practice among Arab nations of refusing ties with Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. And in a Washington Institute poll earlier this summer, roughly 80% of Emiratis questioned opposed business contacts with Israel.

Israel did agree to halt settlements in the West Bank as part of the agreement. Palestinian officials have still criticized the UAE's apparent defection from their cause.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, tweeted about Saturday's decree, referring to the global boycott, divest and sanctions movement to pressure Israel to change its policies towards Palestinians.

"While #BDS is proving to be an effective tool of peaceful resistance & responsible, ethical investment & consumer responsibility to hold Israel to account, this happens!"Ashrawi tweeted.

Ashrawi had previously criticized the agreement between Israel and the UAE, saying "Israel had been rewarded for not declaring openly what it's been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation."

NPR's Daniel Estrin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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