Top Trump aides to escort Israeli officials on first flight to UAE

Top Trump aides to escort Israeli officials on first flight to UAE
Top US officials will escort their Israeli counterparts on the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE.
4 min read
26 August, 2020
Jared Kushner will be on the first commercial flight between the two countries [Getty]
Senior US officials, including President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, will escort Israeli officials on the first-ever commercial flight between Israel and the United Arab Emirates next week.

The high-profile flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi will mark a symbolic demonstration of the close ties between Israel and UAE since their historic agreement this month to normalise relations.

The flight, likely on an Israeli El-Al airliner emblazoned with the Israeli national colours of blue and white and the Star of David, will be the first known direct trip by the flag-carrier to a Gulf Arab state.

It marks an important sign of progress in implementing the 13 August normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE, officials said Tuesday, which sparked anger across the Arab world.

US officials said their delegation will be headed by President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and will include national security adviser Robert O'Brien, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and envoy for Iran Brian Hook, administration officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, announced that his national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, would lead Israel's delegation. A number of Israeli government ministries will also send representatives, including the directors of the foreign and defence ministries and the national aviation authority, he said.

Netanyahu said the talks would "advance peace and normalisation" with the UAE and would focus on flights and tourism, trade, business, energy, security and health, including the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is a historic agreement," Netanayahu said. "It will spur growth. It will help bring general economic growth, especially during the coronavirus era. I hope that other countries in our region will join the circle of peace."

The flight could indicate Saudi consensus of the deal. Saudi Arabia has voiced lukewarm support and until now has not said whether they would allow the two countries to use its airspace for direct flights.

Without Saudi acquiescence, flights would likely have to take a roundabout and potentially risky route around Yemen and through the Persian Gulf.

US officials said the flight and the subsequent meetings between Israeli and UAE officials would be a centerpiece of Kushner's next trip to the Middle East, which is set to begin this weekend.

In addition to Israel and the UAE, Kushner's team is expected to visit Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on what will be the second of two high-profile trips to the region by senior Trump administration officials.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently in Bahrain on the third leg of a Middle East tour that began in Israel and Sudan.

Read more: Pompeo arrives in Bahrain on Mideast charm offensive

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during his visit to Ramallah on Tuesday that "peace will not be achieved by bypassing the Palestinians or through normalising relations with Arab countries".

"There will be no peace, security and stability in our region without ending the Israeli occupation of our land and the Palestinian people gaining their freedom and independence in their sovereign state on the 1967 borders," he added in comments shared by Wafa news agency.

The bombshell announcement earlier this month that Israel and the energy-rich UAE would normalise ties sparked fury among Palestinians. Both Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority were united in their opposition to the US-brokered agreement.

This week's flurry of activity comes as the Trump administration presses ahead with ambitious plans to promote Arab-Israeli rapprochement even in the absence of a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The establishment of a Palestinian state has long been a prerequisite for Arab states in order to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Trump has made the matter a priority and his efforts have picked up steam in the months before November's presidential election, in which he is counting on support from conservative American Jews and the evangelical Christian community.

Read more: 'Cultivating settlements': Israel's colonial expansion rebranded

The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan.

Under the deal Israel said it would "suspend" its plans to annex Jewish settlements and other territory in the West Bank.

Those annexation plans were outlined in the controversial Middle East peace proposal unveiled in January by US President Donald Trump, which some Palestinians have sardonically dubbed the 'Deal of the Century'. 

Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Gulf Arab countries will soon follow the UAE, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and their shared enmity toward Iran.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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