Israel and UAE in historic direct flight following peace deal


An Israeli-American delegation was set to take off Monday on the first commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi as the US-brokered normalisation agreement between the Jewish state and the UAE takes hold.

The El Al flight, scheduled to leave at 0730 GMT from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, will carry a delegation led on the American side by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner.

The word “peace” was painted on the plane’s cockpit in Arabic, English and Hebrew, images issued by El Al showed.

The agreement between Israel and the Emirates to normalise ties was announced on August 13, making the UAE the first Gulf country and only the third Arab nation to establish relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. 

Israel’s National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat will be the most senior figure aboard the flight on the side of the Jewish state.

The scheduled talks in Abu Dhabi aim at boosting cooperation between the two regional economic powerhouses in areas including aviation, tourism, trade, health, energy and security.

The flight by Israel’s national carrier, numbered 971 like the UAE’s international dialling code, was reported to have received permission to cross Saudi Arabia’s air space.

Officials at El Al and the Israel Airport Authority would not confirm the reports, which would be the first known time El Al crosses Saudi airspace.

The return flight, set to leave Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning, is numbered 972 — Israel’s international dialling code.

– ‘Sparks fly’ –

Late Sunday, Israel’s health ministry 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 travelling to Abu Dhabi would be exempted 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was unveiled, there have been phone calls between their ministers, and on Saturday the Emirates in a new milestone repealed a 1972 law boycotting Israel.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 federal 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 normalisation” 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 normalise their ties with Israel.”

As part of the normalisation agreement announced by Trump, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexations in the occupied West Bank, although Netanyahu quickly 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.


PHOTO: The Arabic, English and Hebrew word for ‘peace’ is seen on the Israeli flag carrier El Al’s aircraft on Monday [Nir Elias/Reuters]

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