Historic Israel-Abu Dhabi flight to fly over Saudi airspace

‘For far too long, the Palestinians have had a veto on peace,’ says Netanyahu

An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Israeli and American officials were set to leave for Abu Dhabi on a historic first El Al flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates that will fly over Saudi Arabia on Monday morning.
It will be the first-ever direct commercial flight from Israel to the UAE and the first Israeli airline to fly over Saudi airspace, a person familiar with the matter said.
The flight will take three hours and 13 minutes, the Israeli Airline Pilots Association said Sunday.
The airline likely received a green light to fly over Saudi Arabia due to the American officials on board, but El Al will not admit it openly for security reasons, an El Al pilot who will not be aboard the flight told The Jerusalem Post.
The plane designated for the flight was adorned with the word “peace” in Arabic, Hebrew and English in honor of the historic moment.
Among those expected to be on the flight are White House Special Adviser Jared Kushner, US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, US Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz, US Iran envoy Brian Hook, an Israeli delegation led by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and top Israeli officials in the areas of tourism, trade and energy.
Defense officials will not take part in Monday’s delegation. They will go to Abu Dhabi separately in the coming weeks after the UAE sought to have the first public meetings with Israelis be about civilian matters.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) denied a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had removed Defense Ministry representatives from the planned special flight to the UAE without consulting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The matter was fully coordinated with Gantz, the PMO and Defense Ministry said.
Gantz met with Kushner and the American delegation on Sunday. They discussed maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge as the US considers Abu Dhabi’s request to buy F-35 stealth jets and other weapons systems following the UAE’s normalization of ties with Israel.
US President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kushner and others in the administration made comments about weighing the arms deal in recent weeks, despite Netanyahu opposing it to maintain Israel’s military advantage. The UAE sought to buy F-35s long before the Abraham Accords with the UAE with Israel was announced earlier in the month.
Gantz, a former military attaché to Washington and familiar with such situations, emphasized that he is prepared to work with the Americans “to find the right avenues to ensure that Israel’s defensive superiority, which is vital to regional stability, is preserved.”
He thanked Kushner and the other members of the delegation “for their constructive efforts to establish peace in our region and for the American commitment to Israeli security.
”Following his meeting with the US delegation, Netanyahu said the Abraham Accord with the UAE brought a shift in the Arab world, and leaders are no longer waiting for the Palestinians to make peace with Israel before they do.
“For far too long, the Palestinians have had a veto on peace, not only between the Palestinians and Israel, but Israel and the Arab states,” he said.
The Palestinians demanded that hundreds of thousands of Jews be evacuated from their homes and that Israel withdraw to “indefensible” pre-1967 lines, Netanyahu said, adding: “If we had to wait for the Palestinians, we would have to wait forever. But no longer.”
He pointed to the UAE canceling its boycott of Israeli goods over the weekend, and said it would pave the way for more countries in the region to normalize ties with Israel.
In addition to the meetings that were made public in recent years – such as with the leaders of Oman, Sudan and Chad – there are many more secret meetings with leaders in the region who seek to strengthen their ties with Israel, Netanyahu said.
“The day will come – it won’t be far away – when we will ask how could it have been any other way,” he said. “Today’s breakthroughs will become tomorrow’s norms.”
Netanyahu said he is willing to negotiate peace with the Palestinians based on Trump’s peace plan, which he said does not require any Israelis or Palestinians to evacuate their homes.
“As more Arab and Muslim countries join the circle of peace, [the Palestinians] will be hard pressed to remain outside,” Netanyahu said.
“We are ready to till fields of peace and bring its bountiful fruits to our people,” he said.
Netanyahu said he would not allow the “tyrants of Tehran” to “scuttle peace and endanger the entire world.”
He thanked Trump for leaving the Iran nuclear deal and declaring snapback sanctions, adding that countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, now openly support the US position on the matter, which they used to do so more quietly.
Peace between Israel and the UAE could not have happened without help from the US, Netanyahu said, adding that Kushner’s “critics have been proven dead wrong.”
Kushner showed some understanding of his detractors, saying they had “the common perspective,” but he and his team “worked together to defy the odds and accomplish something few thought was possible.”
“We should take a moment to celebrate a historic breakthrough for peace,” Kushner said of Israel-UAE normalization. “It’s an accomplishment that does not happen often [and] did not happen easily.”
The Trump peace plan, he said, the formulation of which he led, “showed other people in the region that Israel was serious, which led to the breakthrough we had today.”
Kushner described a Middle East that was in turmoil three years ago, between the spread of ISIS and Iran having funds to ensure its proxies, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and others, were “basically flush with cash.” He credited Trump with reversing the trend and “writing a script for a new Middle East.”
While in the recent past, some saw the region as hopeless, Kushner said, “in the last couple of weeks, [there] is a new sense of optimism. We must seize that optimism and help this region achieve the potential it truly has.”
He credited UAE leader Mohammed bin Zayed with being “very courageous” and having built a country that “hopefully the rest of the Middle East can aspire to.”
Kushner expressed his personal excitement over the Abraham Accord between Israel and the UAE, saying: “As the grandson of two holocaust survivors, it means more to me and my family than I can ever express.”
“We will continue to pursue peace between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbors,” he said.
O’Brien spoke of the potential of the peace deal, saying: “Combining Israel’s innovation and creativity with the UAE’s financial centers and capital [can be] truly incredible for the Middle East.”
“Israel and the UAE are putting the region on a truly transformative path,” he said.
Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.