Israel, UAE start talks to open embassies during historic first visit

“I’m sure Mr. Netanyahu sees the opportunities coming from this relationship,” White House Special Adviser Jared Kushner said.

The historic flight from Israel to the UAE has landed. (Credit: PMO)
ABU DHABI – Israel and the United Arab Emirates have started discussions to open embassies in each other’s countries, during a high-level government meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
The Israeli delegation headed by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, together with his American counterpart Robert O’Brien, White House Special Adviser Jared Kushner, and others arrived on the first-ever direct flight by an Israeli airline from Israel to the UAE. The El Al plane, bearing an Israeli flag, was also the first-ever Israeli flight over Saudi Arabia.
The countries’ foreign ministries, along with American representatives, worked on the details of the normalization deal and other bilateral agreements between the countries.
Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz said: “We are starting a historic process and we plan to promote the institution of full relations and opening embassies in the two countries as soon as possible to strengthen the cooperation between Israel and the UAE.
“Movement of people, goods and finance is the central key to realizing the great potential in the relations,” Ushpiz added.
Ben-Shabbat and his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, held a lengthy meeting.
Israeli and Emirati officials in other areas like science and space, civil aviation, foreign policy and diplomacy, tourism, finance, health and more met for round-table discussions of possible opportunities for cooperation, often with an American facilitator.
The Jerusalem Post was allowed to get brief glimpses of some of the professional talks on condition that the officials would not be quoted. Most of the rooms were set up with U-shaped tables, with Emirati men in white robes and headdresses on one side, facing Israelis on the other side.
The governments of the UAE hosted a tour and dinner for Israeli journalists at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, with kosher food for those who requested it, and discussions with officials from a range of cultural, scientific and diplomatic areas, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One official emphasized that peace between Israel and the UAE would be different from that between Israel and Egypt or Jordan, because the people of the UAE plan to take an active part in that peace.
Netanyahu made similar comments in a press conference in Jerusalem Monday evening, saying peace with the UAE will be a “warm peace,” based on economic cooperation.
Another official pointed out similarities between Israelis and Emiratis, citing a drive for success and innovation.
An Emirati diplomat in her twenties said she expects many locals to visit Israel when there are regular flights between the countries, and said many have expressed interest in seeing Jerusalem.
Earlier, when the El Al flight landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport, the delegation was met by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.
Ben-Shabbat greeted his Emirati hosts and local press in Arabic, saying that he is “proud and very happy to be here as the head of the Israeli delegation.
“We came here to turn the vision into reality,” he said. “There is no limit to the possible cooperation between us in science, innovation, health, aviation, agriculture, energy and many other areas.”
Ben-Shabbat called on more countries to join them in peace.
In a press conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu invited a UAE delegation to Israel to be “welcomed on a red carpet, as well.”
“I felt an immense pride,” Netanyahu said after seeing Israeli flags waving in Abu Dhabi. “This is a new age in our history.
Suggesting Israel is in talks with other Arab states, Netanyahu said: “There are many things I cannot tell you, but I am sure you will find out in time.”
Asked on the plane which Middle Eastern countries may make peace with Israel next, Kushner chuckled, saying: “I know the people in Israel well, and when there’s an accomplishment, they say ‘what’s next?’ I’m going to ask the Israeli people for just one day... let’s take a moment to celebrate.”
O’Brien said he is “hopeful this will be the first step in creating momentum... [that] will lead to other nations deciding it is in their best interests to normalize ties with Israel.”
Kushner said the Saudis are “very gracious” for allowing the first Israeli flight in their airspace, and that the flight is “a manifestation of what is possible in the Middle East.”
“We can take it as a sign,” Kushner said. “It’s an encouragement for this progress.”
The special adviser commended Netanyahu and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed for their “great leadership.”
Netanyahu radioed in a message to the plane while it was flying over Saudi Arabia, saying the delegation on the plane is “opening the door to a different kind of peace. Peace with investments, peace with tourism, peace with many fruits and peace that will be between our two nations and all the nations of the region.”
On the flight to the UAE, Kushner addressed the Trump peace plan and its allowing for Israel to extend its sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria.
Israel is “going to be focused right now on the relationship with the UAE. I think that’ll make peace, in time, with the Palestinians, much more possible,” he said.
Still, he added, “President Trump likes to leave his options open.”
Annexation was included in the plan because it was clear that “in the context of any agreement, Israel wasn’t going to give up that territory,” and the US “had to make sure Israel’s security was protected.”
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and potentially recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank would “take those provocative issues off the table.”
Kushner criticized the Palestinians for rejecting the Trump plan even before it was published in January.
“Certain people like division and the status quo for whatever reason,” he said.
On the tarmac in Abu Dhabi, Kushner said of the Palestinians: “We can’t want peace more than they want peace. When they are ready, the whole region wants to move forward, but they can’t be stuck in the past... Peace and opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they are ready to embrace it.”