Israel eyes Dubai expo as ‘portal’ to Arab world

With the world’s largest trade fair opening in an Arab country for the first time next year, Israel is stepping up preparations, hoping to boost nascent ties with regional neighbours, reports BSS/AFP.

The Dubai Expo 2020 trade fair will gather nearly 200 countries vying for the attention of a projected 25 million visitors over nearly six months from October. Like most Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relations with Israel. But the Jewish state has been quietly moving closer to Gulf Arab countries on the basis of shared security interests and a common enemy — Iran.

An Israeli pavilion at an Arab-hosted expo presents a unique opportunity to speed up the “normalisation” of relations and reach out to Arab peoples, officials say. “To us, the added value is in the Arab and Muslim visitor,” said Elazar Cohen, the Israeli foreign ministry’s pointman for the expo, which is organised by the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).

So far public overtures between Israel and Arab nations have been cautious, but notable, with Israeli athletes and officials increasingly allowed into Gulf countries. The expo is “a unique meeting between cultures and languages and people who don’t routinely meet”, said David Knafo, the Tel Aviv-based architect behind the design of Israel’s pavilion.

– ‘No walls, no borders’ –
Designed to reflect Israel’s sense of belonging to the region as well as the openness the Jewish state seeks to broadcast to its Arab neighbours, “the pavilion is therefore an open space — a living room to host the expo visitors.” Concept videos of the pavilion reveal stairs leading up a representation of a sand dune.

Described as a “pavilion with no walls and no borders,” the stairs are arched by large LED screens showing images of different aspects of Israeli society. The aim, Knafo said, is to symbolise Israel’s transformation of its deserts through culture and technology, hinting at the possibility that other desert lands could do the same.

An auditorium below the pavilion will offer visitors an interactive multimedia experience, the foreign ministry’s director general Yuval Rotem told AFP. It aims to showcase “the Israeli spirit and culture” in innovations and developments from fields such as water, medicine and information technology, he said.