A US-Israeli delegation including White House advisor Jared Kushner landed on Monday in Abu Dhabi on the historic first direct commercial flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates to mark the normalization of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE.
The word “peace” was written in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the cockpit of the plane of Israel’s national carrier El Al.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key architect of his Middle East policy, said before boarding.
“The future does not have to be predetermined by the past. This is a very hopeful time.”
The flight number El Al 971 is a reference to the UAE’s international dialing code, and the return flight, set to leave Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning, is El Al 972, matching Israel’s dialing code.
The Israel-UAE agreement to normalize ties was announced by Trump on August 13, making the UAE the first Gulf country and only the third Arab nation to establish relations with Israel.
Unlike Egypt, which made peace with its former battlefield enemy in 1979, and Jordan, which followed in 1994, the UAE has never fought a war with Israel.
The unprecedented flight passed through Saudi airspace, according to the specialist website FlightRadar24, and marked the most concrete sign yet that Israel’s thaw with major Arab powers is taking hold.
Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, who was also on the flight to the UAE, said, “our goal is to achieve a joint working plan to advance relations in a very broad range of areas.
“This morning, the traditional blessing ‘go in peace’ receives special meaning for us,” he said.
The talks in Abu Dhabi aim to boost cooperation between the two regional economic powerhouses in areas including aviation, tourism, trade, health, energy and security.
An Israeli government statement said there would be “working meetings of joint teams on a range of issues ahead of the signing of cooperation agreements in the civil and economic spheres”.
The visit will also include a meeting involving Kushner, Ben-Shabbat and UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, it said.
Israel’s Health Ministry had late Sunday updated its list of “green countries” with low coronavirus infection rates to include the UAE and eight other countries.
The change meant the Israeli officials and journalists traveling to Abu Dhabi would be exempt from a 14-day quarantine upon return.
Since the agreement between the UAE and Israel was unveiled, there have been phone calls between their ministers, and on Saturday the Emirates in a new milestone repealed a 1972 law boycotting Israel.
“It will be permissible to enter, exchange or possess Israeli goods and products of all kinds in the UAE and trade in them,” read a decree issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking alongside Kushner in Jerusalem on Sunday, praised “the swift pace of normalization” between his country and the UAE.
Noting the UAE’s Saturday move, Netanyahu said it opens the door for “unbridled trade, tourism, investments, exchanges between the Middle East’s two most advanced economies”.
“You will see how the sparks fly on this. It’s already happening,” he said, predicting that “today’s breakthroughs will become tomorrow’s norms.”
“It will pave the way for other countries to normalize their ties with Israel.
“There are many more unpublicized meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders to normalize relations with the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said without naming any country.
As part of the normalization agreement, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexations in the occupied West Bank, though Netanyahu insisted the plans remained on the table in the long run.
The Palestinians dubbed the UAE’s agreement with Israel a “stab in the back” as it opens parts of the Arab world to the Jewish state while their own conflict remains unresolved.
Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by most Arab states, says it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians establishing an independent Palestinian state.