US and Israeli officials arrive in UAE for historic trip amid Palestinian anger

Jared Kushner urges Palestinians not to be ‘stuck in the past’ during visit to finalise pact

US special adviser Jared Kushner speaks next to US national security adviser Robert O’Brien following the arrival in Abu Dhabi of the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

US special adviser Jared Kushner speaks next to US national security adviser Robert O’Brien following the arrival in Abu Dhabi of the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

 

Senior US and Israeli officials landed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) 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 maintain Israel’s military edge while advancing ties to the UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy and a regional power.

In apparently unrelated incidents, two blasts at restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai killed three people earlier in the day in what authorities said were the result of gas malfunctions. The Abu Dhabi government told residents “to avoid spreading rumours” about the blasts, and to “use official news sources”.

Announced on August 13th, the normalisation deal between Israel and the UAE 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.

Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, seeing it as a betrayal that would weaken a longstanding pan-Arab position which calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

Mr 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 Mr Kushner, part of a US delegation that accompanied Israeli officials on the first official Israeli flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE, undertaken ahead of the finalising of the pact.

Mr Kushner and national security adviser Robert O’Brien head the US delegation. The Israeli team is led by Mr O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Co-operation

Israel and the UAE will discuss economic, scientific, trade and cultural co-operation 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.

Even before landing, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner carrying them flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.

“That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu tweeted, describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli officials hope the two-day trip to the UAE will produce a date for a signing ceremony in Washington, perhaps as early as September, between Mr 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 carrying the delegates on Monday, has signalled it is not ready.

On board the packed aircraft, passengers were welcomed in Arabic as well as in English and Hebrew, a gesture marking the historic flight.

“Wishing us all salaam, peace and shalom, have a safe flight,” the pilot, Capt Tal Becker, said on the intercom, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, 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. It also carried security agents of the US Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet.

Palestinian anger

Palestinian leaders expressed fresh anger at a deal which they believe further erodes their struggle for an independent state.

“Peace is not an empty word used to normalise crimes and oppression. Peace is the outcome of justice,” politician Saeb Erekat said in a tweet on Monday.

The Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, also condemned the UAE.

The flight represented a “stab in the back of the Palestinian people, a prolonging of the occupation, and a betrayal of the resistance of the [Palestinian] people”, Hamas said in a statement. – Reuters