First commercial Israeli ‘peace flight’ to UAE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the first flight from his nation to the United Arab Emirates as “an historic day, a joyous day for all citizens of Israel, a day of victory, the doctrine of peace for peace.”

In a televised address to the nation, the Premier said he instructed National Security Council (NSC) Chairman Meir Ben Shabbat, who is leading the Israeli team, to invite the UAE delegation to make a reciprocal visit where they would receive “a ‘red carpet welcome’ just like they welcomed us. I look at this again, as I saw the El Al plane land in Abu Dhabi, in daylight, and I saw our flags unfurled – I was moved and I felt enormous pride.”

Netanyahu further asserted that the Israeli-Emirati normalization accord is the direct consequence of a series of policies that bolstered the state’s economy on the one hand, while on the other, standing with full force against Iran.

“We changed Israel. We turned it, first of all, into a strong economy. This created the strong technology that – of course – created our strong military capability. But this was not enough because we did something else in these 25 years – we led the struggle against Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons. We have reached this day because I went on your behalf, citizens of Israel, and I stood with full force against Iran,” he said.

Senior officials from Israel, the UAE and the United States are currently holding extensive meetings in Abu Dhabi to finalize understandings of the agreement, which is also known as the Abraham Accord.

A senior Israeli official told TV7 that the agreement will be signed at a ceremony in Washington that is expected to be held within the next two to three weeks.

The unprecedented passage of the Israeli national El Al jet, named Flight 971 in a nod to the UAE’s telephone code (Israel’s is 972) from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi yesterday signified a momentous occasion; and the flight path itself was no less historic than the destination itself.

Speaking to TV7 from aboard the commercial carrier, Reuters correspondent Dan Williams highlighted the symbolic moment the captain announced the entrance of Saudi airspace by an Israeli airline. “Overflight rights may be a trifling matter elsewhere,” Williams said, noting, however, that “In the Middle East they are very significant – not least because Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel – and heretofore, did not allow publicly acknowledge Israeli flights to overfly its territory.”

“There are no doubt people on board this plane who are hoping this gesture by Saudi Arabia may presage future normalization with Israel,” the journalist said.

During the historic flight, U.S. Senior Presidential Advisor Jared Kushner seized the opportunity to underscore the importance of the latest developments vis-à-vis the Israeli-Emirati deal.  “Over the last years, people have spoken about all of the bad things that have happened in the Middle East, and all of the conflict and the chaos and the division that has existed for the last decades,” he said, adding, “But I do believe that this is ushering in a new hopefulness among all people that peace is possible, and that there’s a new chapter that can be written.”

The Israeli and U.S. delegations received a warm welcome upon landing in Abu Dhabi, where NSC Chairman Ben Shabbat relayed a message of peace and hope to the people of the United Arab Emirates – while calling on other countries in the region to follow suit and join the circle of peace.

“Peace be upon you. I am proud and very happy to be here as the president of the Israeli delegation,” said Ben Shabbat. “We arrived here to transform the vision into reality. There are no limits to the cooperation that can be developed in the fields of science, innovation, health, aviation, agriculture, energy and many other fields. I invite other countries to participate with us in the peacemaking process for the sake of all people in the region. Thanks to our Emirati hosts and our American partners for their leadership,” he added.

While normalizing relations between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem marks an historic achievement, it is important to remember that the White House regional peace initiative aimed at ultimately reaching a viable resolution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kushner, who is leading Washington’s delegation and considered the architect of its peace proposal, stressed that any such breakthrough remains out of reach unless the Palestinians themselves seek peace.  “The message that we carry for the Palestinians is also one of hope,” said the son-in-law of U.S. President Donald Trump. After saying that his team has “done a lot of great work to lay out a pathway for them to improve their future, we’ve put an offer to their leadership on the table that will enable them to have a state and self-determination and an economic plan that can revitalize their economy,” Kushner emphasized, “but we can’t want peace more than they want peace.”

“When they are ready, the whole region is very excited to help lift them up and move them forward – but they can’t be stuck in the past, they have to come to the table,” Kushner said of the Palestinians.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh nevertheless condemned the direct flight from Jerusalem to Abu Dhabi as “a clear and shameful violation to the Arab position.”

In a reference to the 1949 withdrawal from the West Bank of some 4,000 Egyptian troops which had been mobilized to fight the establishment of the Jewish State a year prior, Shtayyeh said, “It hurts us very much when we see the landing of an Israeli plane in the UAE that holds the name of Kiryat Gat, a settlement that was built on the lands of al-Faluja village, the place where (former Egyptian President) Gamal Abdel Nasser was besieged.”

The Palestinian Premier went on to provocatively remark that his people advocate a clear rejection of normalized ties by Arab nations with the Jewish State, and that they would have instead hoped to see a UAE flight land in a Jerusalem “liberated” from Israeli sovereignty. He went on to praise countries that have signaled rejection of the UAE accord with Israel despite being pressured during the recent regional tour to bolster peace by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.