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US-Israeli delegation lands in Abu Dhabi on historic flight

Saudi Arabia allows 'historic' flight to cross its airspace — Kushner

By AFP - Sep 01,2020 - Last updated at Sep 01,2020

ABU DHABI — A US-Israeli delegation led by White House adviser Jared Kushner arrived Monday in Abu Dhabi, on the historic first commercial flight from Tel Aviv to build ties between Israel and the UAE.

The word "peace" was written in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the cockpit of the El Al flight that landed at the VIP terminal in the Emirates capital.

"While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond," Kushner, who is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key architect of his Middle East policy, said before boarding.

"The future does not have to be predetermined by the past. This is a very hopeful time."

Saudi Arabia allowed the "historic" flight to cross its airspace, Kushner said at Abu Dhabi shortly after the flight landed. "This is the first time this has ever happened. I would like to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for making that possible."

The direct flight by Israel's national carrier, numbered LY971 in a nod to the UAE's international dialling code, is due to return on Tuesday with the number 972, matching Israel's dialling code.

The agreement to normalise ties was announced by Trump on August 13, making the UAE the first Gulf country and only the third Arab nation to establish relations with Israel.

Unlike Egypt and Jordan, which made peace with their former battlefield enemy in 1979 and 1994, the UAE has never fought a war with Israel.

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, who was also on the flight to the UAE, said "our goal is to achieve a joint working plan to advance relations in a very broad range of areas.”

The talks in Abu Dhabi aim to boost cooperation between the two regional economic powerhouses in areas including aviation, tourism, trade, health, energy and security.

An Israeli government statement said there would be "working meetings of joint teams on a range of issues ahead of the signing of cooperation agreements in the civil and economic spheres".

The visit will also include a meeting between Kushner, Ben-Shabbat and UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed, it said.

Since the agreement between the UAE and Israel was unveiled, there have been phone calls between their ministers, and on Saturday the Emirates in a new milestone repealed a 1972 law boycotting Israel.

"It will be permissible to enter, exchange or possess Israeli goods and products of all kinds in the UAE and trade in them," read a decree issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking alongside Kushner in Jerusalem on Sunday, praised "the swift pace of normalisation" between his country and the UAE.

"You will see how the sparks fly on this. It's already happening," he said, predicting that "today's breakthroughs will become tomorrow's norms. It will pave the way for other countries to normalise their ties with Israel".

As part of the normalisation agreement, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexations in the occupied West Bank, although Netanyahu quickly insisted the plans remained on the table in the long run.

Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by most Arab states, says it will not follow the UAE's example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians establishing an independent Palestinian state.

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