Israeli and U.S. Officials Fly to UAE to Cement ‘Normalization’ Deal

TEL AVIV (Reuters) -
U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and U.S. President Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner prepare to board a flight with an Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi for talks meant to put final touches on the normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, at Ben Gurion International Airport, Monday. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Top aides to President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to put the final touches on a pact establishing open relations between the Gulf power and Israel.

U.S. Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner, (center right), and U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, (center left), pose with members of the Israeli-American delegation in front of the El Al’s flight, Monday. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Phovo via AP)

Even before discussions start in Abu Dhabi, the delegates will have made aviation history by taking an Israeli commercial airliner – the word “peace” printed in Arabic, English and Hebrew above a cockpit window of the El Al Boeing 737 – directly from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital, flying over Saudi territory.

“That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Netanyahu tweeted, hailing what he termed a historic flight and describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel liberated in the Six Day War.

A seat covering reading in Arabic, English and Hebrew “making history” is seen in an El Al airliner that will carry Israeli and U.S. delegations to Abu Dhabi for talks meant to put final touches on the normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Monday. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Announced on Aug. 13, the ‘normalization’ deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was catalyzed largely by shared fears of Iran.

Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, worried that it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from Yehudah and Shomron – and acceptance of Palestinian statehood – in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

Screens displaying flight number of Israeli flag carrier El Al’s airliner which will carry Israeli and U.S. delegations to Abu Dhabi, Monday. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and national security adviser Robert O’Brien head the U.S. delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. Officials will explore bilateral cooperation in areas such as commerce and tourism, and Israeli defense envoys are due to visit the UAE separately.

Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

That could give Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his reelection bid in November. In Jerusalem on Sunday, Kushner said the deal was a “giant step forward.”

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, has signaled that it is not ready.

But in what could presage a more relaxed posture by Riyadh, the El Al plane on Monday will be allowed to overfly Saudi territory to cut flight time.