Abu Dhabi: Senior US and Israeli officials landed in the United Arab Emirates on Monday on a historic trip to finalise a pact marking open relations between Israel and the Gulf state, and they told Palestinians it was now time for them to negotiate peace.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner also said on arrival that Washington could help maintain Israel’s military edge while advancing its ties to the UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy and a regional power.
Announced on Aug. 13, the normalisation deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was forged largely through shared fears of Iran.
Kushner said Palestinians should not be “stuck in the past”.
“They have to come to the table. Peace will be ready for them, an opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they are ready to embrace it,” said Kushner, part of a US delegation that accompanied Israeli officials on the first official Israeli flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE.
In a joint statement, the UAE, Israel and the United States urged Palestinian leaders to re-engage with their Israeli counterparts.
The Abu Dhabi crown prince earlier said that the UAE was committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, state news agency WAM reported.
“Peace is a strategic choice, but not at the expense of the Palestinian cause,” WAM cited him as saying.
Kushner and US national security adviser Robert O’Brien headed the US delegation on the two-day visit.
The Israeli team was led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.
Israel and the United Arab Emirates will discuss economic, scientific, trade and cultural cooperation on the visit.
Direct flights between the two countries will also be on the agenda, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told al Arabiya television after landing in Abu Dhabi.
“That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted.
At a news conference in Jerusalem late on Monday, Netanyahu said: “It will be a warm peace because it will be based on cooperation in the realm of economics, with an entrepreneurial economy like ours, with vast economic capabilities, with big money looking for investment channels.”
Even before landing, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.
Israeli officials hope the trip will produce a date for a signing ceremony in Washington, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
That could give US President Donald Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.
The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel.
The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, while opening its airspace to the El Al flight, has signalled it is not ready.
Onboard the packed airliner, passengers were welcomed in Arabic as well as English and Hebrew.
“Wishing us all salaam, peace and shalom, have a safe flight,” the pilot, Captain Tal Becker, said on the intercom, using all three languages to also announce the flight number and destination.
Like all El Al 737s, the aircraft was equipped with an anti-missile system, an Israeli spokesman said, and carried security agents of the US Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet.