Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to the United Arab Emirates was canceled on Thursday amid a diplomatic crisis with Jordan, and because Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is hospitalized with appendicitis.
Jordan blocked Netanyahu’s planned flight to the United Arab Emirates from entering its airspace on Thursday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“These difficulties apparently come from the cancellation of the Jordanian crown prince’s visit to the Temple Mount, following a dispute over security arrangements at the site,” the PMO said.
By midday Thursday, Jordan was willing to allow the flight to enter its airspace, but Netanyahu and UAE leader Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had already agreed to postpone the prime minister’s visit – for the fourth time since Israel and the UAE established diplomatic relations in August.
“My visit to the Emirates was not made possible due to a misunderstanding,” Netanyahu said on Thursday evening. “Difficulties in coordinating our flights [was] due to an incident that happened yesterday on the Temple Mount. It took us a good few hours to straighten things out with Jordan. [Now] we can fly. I can fly over the skies of Jordan, [but by the time] this coordination was achieved, the visit was not possible.”
Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah had planned to visit al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount on Wednesday, following coordination with Israel on his security.
However, the prince arrived at the Israeli border with more armed guards than had been agreed upon, Israeli sources said. The additional guards were not permitted to enter Israel, and Hussein canceled his visit.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said that the crown prince canceled the visit because Israel wanted to impose new arrangements and change the visit itinerary.
Safadi did not comment on the diplomatic crisis surrounding Netanyahu’s trip to the UAE.
“Jordan had agreed with Israel on the arrangements for the visit, but we were surprised at the last minute that Israel wanted to impose new arrangements and change the visit program,” Safadi told reporters after a meeting in Paris of the Munich Group, which included the foreign ministers of Egypt, France and Germany, as well as the European Union Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process and the UN Coordinator for the Peace Process.
“The crown prince wanted to make a religious visit to al-Aqsa Mosque to pray on the occasion of Isra’ and Mi’raj,” Safadi said, referring to the Islamic holiday marking prophet Mohammed’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and then to heaven.
According to Safadi, the proposed Israeli measures would have imposed restrictions on Muslim worshipers in Jerusalem during the special prayer to observe the holiday.
“His royal highness decided that he would not allow such restrictions against Muslim worshipers on this blessed night,” he added. “That’s why he decided to cancel the visit: to preserve the right of the worshipers in Jerusalem to freely celebrate this event.”
Safadi reiterated Jordan’s position that the entire area of the Aqsa Mosque compound “is a place of worship for Muslims only.” Israel, he said, has no sovereignty over the holy site.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Netanyahu was to blame for the deterioration leading to the diplomatic crisis.
“Jordan is Israel’s strategic partner,” Gantz said. “The defense and diplomatic ties we share are a cornerstone of our national security approach. Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s conduct in recent years has done significant damage to our relations with Jordan, causing Israel to lose considerable defensive, diplomatic and economic assets.”
Labor head Merav Michaeli made similar comments, tweeting: “He’s not ‘Mr. Security.’ Netanyahu is a strategic hazard for the State of Israel. The same one who, with his own two hands, ruined the relationship and alienated our neighbor Jordan is the same one who brought Iran closer than ever to both nuclear capabilities and our northern border.”
Israeli-Jordanian ties have been strained during Netanyahu’s tenure, but have warmed slightly as of late. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has met three times with his Jordanian counterpart Safadi, and Gantz reportedly met with Jordanian King Abdullah.
Netanyahu’s trip to the UAE was supposed to be his first since the announcement of the Abraham Accords in August, marking peace and normalization between the Gulf state and Israel.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu considered canceling his trip to the United Arab Emirates after his wife, Sarah, was hospitalized with appendicitis.
Sarah felt unwell late Wednesday night, and accompanied by her husband, went to Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem where she was diagnosed with appendicitis. She will remain in the hospital for several days.
The prime minister had planned to meet with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the airport in the Emirati capital for a two-hour visit.
Instead, Netanyahu spoke to the crown prince on the phone on Thursday, during which the UAE leader committed to have his country invest $10 billion in Israel. WAM, the Emirati state news agency, reported that the funds would go to energy, manufacturing, water, space, healthcare and agri-tech, among other sectors, and will “support development initiatives to promote regional economic cooperation between the two countries.” The funds will come from the government of the UAE, as well as the private sector.
Israeli, Emirati and Saudi officials had worked on a possible secret meeting between Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his brief trip to the UAE.
“MBS is ready to meet Bibi,” said a well-placed Emirati source.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but ties between the countries have been warming, especially in cooperation against their shared adversary, Iran. Netanyahu and MBS, as the Saudi crown prince is known, met in November in the Saudi smart city of Neom, though neither has officially confirmed it.
Asked about meeting with MBS on Tuesday, Netanyahu quipped: “What is it like to ask questions you know you won’t get an answer to?”
The UAE trip was set to take place 12 days before the Election Day, despite reports that officials in the Emirates were hesitant to host Netanyahu on a date that would be viewed as political.
The source in Abu Dhabi confirmed that the election was a consideration, but the UAE’s leadership decided to welcome Netanyahu regardless of the timing.
Two previous Netanyahu visits to the UAE had been canceled due to COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions; political developments; and one because of scheduling issues in Abu Dhabi. He had originally planned a trip of several days, with stops in Dubai and Bahrain as well.
Speaking last month of a planned visit to the UAE, the prime minister said: “It has great security, national and international importance.”
Netanyahu also met with the prime ministers of Hungary and the Czech Republic in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, to discuss cooperation on COVID-19 vaccine production.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.