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UAE calls for U.N. meeting after Israeli minister's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The United Arab Emirates is calling for an urgent session of the United Nations Security Council. This comes after a visit yesterday by Israel's far-right national security minister to Jerusalem's holiest site. The request by the UAE highlights the difficulties Arab governments face in building ties with Israel under its new leadership. NPR's Aya Batrawy reports from Dubai.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Israelis have made hundreds of thousands of trips to the United Arab Emirates since the countries formalized ties two years ago, but it was never going to be an easy relationship. Under Israel's new government that's packed with ultra nationalists, those budding ties are already being tested. The UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan slammed Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Tuesday. All four countries have ties with Israel. But the occupation in the Palestinian territories is unpopular among people in the region.

Elham Fakhro is a Bahraini research fellow on Gulf affairs at the University of Exeter and the author of a forthcoming book on the Abraham Accords. She says the relationship between the UAE and Israel has matured since they first established ties. The Emiratis, she says, are bolder in their actions and sending a public message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

ELHAM FAKHRO: They are trying to use their influence. Whether or not Netanyahu is going to be a willing partner in that is a different question. So far, he's been moving in an opposite direction.

BATRAWY: It was only last month that the UAE's ambassador in Tel Aviv shook hands with Ben-Gvir, a leader in the Jewish power party who was convicted in Israel on anti-Arab racism charges. He's advocated changing the status quo and allowing Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa, which is on a hilltop revered in Judaism as the Temple Mount. Muslims perceive that as a step toward taking over the site. The U.S. supports preserving the status quo.

Arab governments called Ben-Gvir's visit provocative and warned Israel against moves that escalate tensions. Netanyahu says Israel is not trying to change the status quo at Al-Aqsa. Israel is reportedly lobbying to block action at the Security Council.

Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Dubai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aya Batrawy