The 100 Most Influential People of 2020
Jon Gambrell—AP
By Vivienne Walt
September 22, 2020 9:34 PM EDT

Despite the United Arab Emirates’ minuscule size, its longtime ambassador wields major clout in Washington. Yousef Al Otaiba has spent years cultivating key players over lavish dinners and major charity donations—piddling gestures for the super-rich Gulf state, but tradable currency in the U.S. capital.

All the schmoozing has paid off. Since 2016, Al Otaiba has helped the Emirates’ ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, build close ties with the Trump Administration, despite the Saudis’ abysmal human-rights record. He has successfully urged U.S. support for the Gulf allies’ war in Yemen, which has left over 100,000 dead and triggered a famine that will kill thousands more. He counts among his friends Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser.

Now Al Otaiba is the public face of a reshaped Middle East. He played a key role in the UAE’s formal recognition of Israel in August, by laying out a deal for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an Israeli newspaper: abandon plans to annex Palestinian land, in exchange for diplomatic ties. It was an irresistible offer—just the kind that Al Otaiba, after years of splurging on powerful friends, was in prime position to make.

Walt is a TIME correspondent

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