After UAE-Israel Breakthrough, Kushner Pushes Other Arab States to Go Next

(Reuters) -
U.S. President’s senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) meets meets Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (R) during his visit to Manama, Bahrain, September 1, 2020. (Bahrain News Agency/Handout via REUTERS)

After accompanying an Israeli delegation to the UAE for historic normalization talks, White House adviser Jared Kushner set off on a tour of other Gulf capitals on Tuesday, looking for more Arab support.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates set up a joint committee to cooperate on financial services at the talks in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, accompanied the Israeli delegation on Monday on what was billed as the first Israeli commercial flight to the influential Gulf monarchy, which agreed in August to normalize relations.

Israel exchanged embassies with neighbors Egypt and Jordan under peace deals decades ago. But until now, all other Arab states had demanded it first cede more land to the Palestinians.

In remarks reported by the UAE state news agency WAM, Kushner suggested other Arab states could follow quickly. Asked when the next would normalize ties with Israel, he was quoted as saying: “Let’s hope it’s months.”

Kushner later flew to Bahrain and is expected also to visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

While no other Arab country has yet indicated a willingness to follow the UAE, the richest, Saudi Arabia, allowed the El Al charter flight carrying Kushner and the Israelis to use its air space.

In Bahrain, which houses the U.S. naval headquarters for the region, the state news agency reported that during his meeting with Kushner, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa had praised the role the UAE has played in defending Arab and Islamic interests.

The king of Bahrain told Kushner that stability in the Gulf region depends on Saudi Arabia, state news agency BNA said.

The Palestinians have denounced the UAE agreement with Israel, which they say violates a longstanding pan-Arab position that Israel could normalize relations only in return for land. The UAE says it obtained a major concession from Israel to halt plans to annex territory.

The Gulf Arab states are mainly ruled by Sunni Muslim monarchs who consider their biggest foe to be Shi’ite Iran, and Israel has long held out the promise that their common enemy could bring them together.

Israeli officials have played up the economic benefits of the UAE deal. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said representatives of the two countries had signed an agreement on cooperation in financial services.

The state-run Abu Dhabi Investment Office and Invest in Israel, part of Israel’s economic ministry, issued a joint statement saying they had agreed to set out a plan to establish formal cooperation.

Amid the historic normalization talks, Kushner met with UAE military officials at an Abu Dhabi air base that houses U.S. military F-35 jets, advanced stealth aircraft which the Gulf state has long sought to buy despite Israeli objections.

The UAE has said normalization should remove any hurdle blocking the sale. Netanyahu said on Monday Israel still opposes selling the jets to the UAE.