Joint US-Israeli delegation arrives in Abu Dhabi on first direct commercial flight; talks underway to put breakthrough Israel-UAE normalization deal into effect
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Stepping off the first ever direct Israeli flight to the United Arab Emirates on Monday afternoon, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner hailed the start of peace between Israel and the UAE and urged the rest of the region and the world to “join us.”
Kushner flew on an El Al plane as part of a joint US and Israeli delegation that also included US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and the head of Israel’s National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat. The flight, which saw the plane travel through Saudi Arabian airspace — another first — came in the wake of a US-brokered normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE, announced on August 13.
On the tarmac Kushner gave a short speech, thanking Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de facto ruler, as well as Saudi Arabia, for allowing the Israeli plane to fly over its airspace.
“Mohammed bin Zayed is truly leading the new Middle East,” he said. “The Middle East is filled with brilliant, industrious, tolerant and innovative people, and the future belongs to them,” he added. “I ask everyone today to join us in celebrating this peace, and to help us expand it throughout the region and the entire world.”
He quipped that officials onboard wanted the plane to fly faster so they could get to their destination sooner to celebrate the normalized ties. “While this peace is forged by its leaders it is overwhelmingly desired by its people,” he said.
Kushner slammed what he said were the few who oppose the Israel-UAE deal. “They exploit division to maintain power,” he said.
In response to a question from a reporter, Kushner said the US has done a lot to help the Palestinians reach peace, but they are not ready. “We can’t want peace more than they want peace,” he said. “When they are ready, the whole region is very excited to help lift them up and help move them forward. But they can’t be stuck in the past.”
The Palestinian leadership had condemned the normalization of ties and has also rejected the Trump administration peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Security adviser O’Brien said the Israel-UAE agreement “represents the most important step for peace in the Middle East in the past 25 years.”
In addition, O’Brien said, Israel and the UAE, together with the US, will form a “united front against Iran.”
Speaking after O’Brien, Israeli counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat gave a speech in Arabic.
“I am extremely proud to be here as the head of the Israeli delegation,” he said. “We are here to transform a vision into reality. There is no border to the potential cooperation between us in innovation, in tourism, in agriculture, in aviation, in many other fields…part of making peace among all peoples in the region.”
Kushner defended the possible US sale of F-35 jets to the UAE, noting the Emirates’ 35-year-old security relationship with the US, and mentioning Iran and the Islamic State.
“The military relationship America has with the UAE is very special just like the relationship between Israel and America,” he said and assured his listeners that the US can maintain Israel’s military edge while still selling arms to the UAE.
Talk of selling the F-35 to the UAE came alongside the Israel-UAE agreement, causing concern in Jerusalem it could whittle Israel’s regional military superiority.
As the plane landed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with the El Al pilot, Tal Becker: “I am watching you with great excitement — the landing of an Israeli plane in broad daylight in Abu Dhabi. Written on it is ‘Shalom, Saalam, Peace’ — this is the beginning,” Netanyahu said.
“You are about to open the door to a different kind of peace, peace with investments, peace with tourism. Peace with many fruits of peace that will be distributed here to both our peoples, and to all the peoples of the region,” the prime minister added. “This is a huge historical blessing. This is a historical day,”
Netanyahu said he had worked for years to reach this point in the belief that “the Arab peoples are able accept Israel’s existence as a fact and as a great partner… I say to all those who are on the other side of the door that is about to open, ‘Saalam Alaikum, Ahalan VeSahalan.’”
“You can’t imagine how excited the people of Israel, myself included, are today. We dreamt of this, we worked at it, and behold it is happening before our eyes,” he added.
Shortly before the plane touched down, Kushner had given a briefing to the press traveling with him, saying that US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu “will discuss” the F-35 deal with UAE. He said that Netanyahu “greatly trusts” the president and pledged that Israel’s qualitative military edge would be maintained.
Kushner also commented on Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank, which is allowed for in the Trump peace plan and that Netanyahu had unilaterally scheduled to begin in July, but which was suspended as part of the normalization agreement with the UAE.
“It’s been suspended so we can focus on [normalization with Arab world],” Kushner said. “But the Trump peace plan is an operative global document for how to make peace. It gives the Palestinians everything they ever asked for.”
“Areas that Israel considers applying law to are all inhabited by Israeli civilians, and controlled by Israeli security. Doesn’t envision Israel giving it up,” Kushner said
Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to establish official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Gulf Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and their shared enmity toward Iran.
Paving the way for the visit, the president of the UAE on Saturday issued a decree that abolished a 48-year-old law boycotting Israel, thereby allowing trade and financial agreements between the two nations.