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August 31, 2020 7:08 am

Israeli, US Officials on Historic Flight to UAE to Formalize Normalization Deal

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Members of the US‐Israel delegation stand in front of the El Al plane that would carry them from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, at Ben‐Gurion International Airport, Aug. 31, 2020. Photo: Menahem Kahana / Pool via Reuters.

Top aides to US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic first flight from Tel Aviv to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to finalize a pact marking open relations between the Gulf power and Israel.

Even before discussions start in Abu Dhabi, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.

“That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Netanyahu tweeted, describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of lands that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Announced on Aug. 13, the normalization deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was catalyzed largely by shared fears of Iran.

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Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, worried that it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from “occupied” territories ‐‐ and acceptance of Palestinian statehood ‐‐ in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and national security adviser Robert O’Brien head the US delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. Officials will explore bilateral cooperation in areas such as commerce and tourism, and Israeli defense envoys are due to visit the UAE separately.

“I prayed yesterday at the (Western) Wall that Muslims and Arabs throughout the world will be watching this flight, recognizing that we are all children of God, and that the future does not have to be pre-determined by the past,” Kushner told reporters on the tarmac at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

Foreign policy boost

That could give Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.

The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, while opening its airspace to the El Al flight, has signaled it is not ready.

With the word “peace” printed in Arabic, English and Hebrew above a cockpit window, the El Al Boeing 737 took off for Abu Dhabi from Tel Aviv, a flight of about 3 hours and 20 minutes, the pilot announced to passengers.

Like all El Al 737s, the aircraft was equipped with an anti-missile system, an Israeli spokesman said, and carried security agents of the US Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet to guard the delegations.

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