‘We Are Making History In a Way That Will Stand for Generations,’ Netanyahu Says as UAE Delegation Visits Israel
In an historic first visit by a Gulf Arab nation, a United Arab Emirates delegation arrived in Israel on Tuesday to cement the normalization deal signed last month.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other American officials accompanied the delegation on Etihad Airways plane from Abu Dhabi to Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.
They were given a red carpet welcome by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Finance Minister Israel Katz.
“We are making history in a way that will stand for generations,” Netanyahu said.
“I think that the visit of such a high-level delegation from the UAE… will show our peoples, the region and the entire world the benefit of having friendly, peaceful and normal exchanges.”
The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign deals to establish formal ties with Israel.
The deals, brokered by US President Donald Trump, were forged largely over shared fears of Iran and Washington and its allies have said they would foster regional peace and stability. But they have prompted anger from the Palestinians.
Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, described Tuesday’s UAE visit as “shameful.”
“The bilateral agreements that were announced today and the delegations that come and go, all of that offers the occupation a strength to escalate its aggression and its crimes against the Palestinian people and increases its intransigence and arrogance,” he said from the West Bank city of Ramallah.
In the Gaza Strip, Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the Islamist group Hamas, said: “Such a visit will only encourage the occupation to pursue the gradual annexation of West Bank lands.”
The five-hour visit would be restricted to the airport near Tel Aviv, due to coronavirus concerns, Israeli organizers said.
“This is an historical moment for the UAE country and Israel and we are looking forward to salaam (peace) … in the region,” one of the Etihad pilots could be heard saying in a video posted on Twitter by US Middle East envoy Ari Berkowitz.
— Avi Berkowitz (@aviberkow45) October 20, 2020
Berkowitz and Mnuchin accompanied the Emirati delegation, which was led by Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq al-Mari and Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid al-Tayer, according to a UAE Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
The US officials had on Sunday joined an Israeli delegation to Bahrain for a signing ceremony to formalize ties.
Israel and the UAE have already signed several commercial deals since mid-August, when they first announced they would establish full relations.
Israeli officials said the two sides were expected to sign a mutual visa-exemption agreement — Israel‘s first with an Arab country.