It was a historic week for Israel as an El Al flight took off on Monday from Tel Aviv for the first time ever to Abu Dhabi, carrying an Israeli-American delegation for official meetings in the United Arab Emirates.
With the word “peace” painted on the cockpit in Hebrew (shalom), Arabic (salaam) and English, the flight made another historic milestone: Saudi Arabia allowed the plane to fly over its airspace making it the fist Israeli flight to do so.
The events of this week have captivated Israelis, most of whom are applauding the Aug. 13 announcement that Israel and the UAE have agreed to full diplomatic relations. In a symbolic gesture, the departing flight was numbered 971, the dialing code for the UAE, and the return flight 972, the dialing code for Israel.
During the visit in Abu Dhabi, Israel and the UAE’s national security advisers joined Jared Kushner, senior advisor to U.S. Pres. Donald Trump, for talks on cooperation between the two in investment, finance, health, space exploration, civil aviation, foreign policy, tourism and culture.
On Tuesday, Israel and the UAE signed their first protocol in banking and finance.
“We will soon announce additional agreements in aviation, tourism, trade and others,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
The two sides also discussed the “possibility of the mutual opening of embassies,” and that — despite zero foreign tourists being allowed into Israel at the moment — direct commercial flights between Tel Aviv and the UAE could begin before the end of the year.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise if by the end of 2020 there will be direct flights between Israel and the UAE,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat told Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned broadcaster.
In a major move, the Saudi government announced on Wednesday it “will allow from now on all flight[s] from the UAE to Israel and back to use Saudi airspace.”
Meanwhile, Kushner continued his swing through the Gulf states in an effort to urge other countries to follow the UAE’s footsteps. But both Bahraini and Saudi Arabia officials indicated that their countries are not ready to normalize relations with Israel.
“The King also highlighted the United Arab Emirates’ historic and continued efforts to support the interests and causes of Arab and Islamic nations, and their determined endeavors to reach a just and comprehensive solution that guarantees the Palestinian people their legitimate rights and lasting peace in the region,” a statement from Bahrain read.
Saudi Arabia has said Israel must first agree on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state before it will consider diplomatic relations with Israel. Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed “the need to resume negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides to achieve a just and lasting peace,” according to the Saudi government news agency.
The Palestinians have called the UAE leader a traitor and called the deal as a stab in the back.
Nevertheless, Kushner predicted that another Arab country, which he didn’t name, would establish diplomatic ties with Israel soon and said it was “logical” that all 22 Arab states would eventually come to the table, saying the “vocal minority” that opposes the move will become increasingly isolated.
“I believe that it is logical for them to do it and I believe it is the right thing to do over time,” Kushner told UAE’s WAM news agency. “I think thanks to the UAE leadership there will be a much bigger coalition. [There will be] what I call ‘a vocal majority’ that will be in favor of normalizing.”
“We don’t solve problems by not talking to each other. So, normalizing relations and allowing people-to-people and business exchanges will only make the Middle East stronger and a more stable place,” he added.
Oman, Bahrain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia are among the countries presumed to be interested in diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.