A US-Israeli delegation led by White House advisor Jared Kushner arrived Monday in Abu Dhabi, on the historic first commercial flight from Tel Aviv to mark the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE. In another breakthrough, regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia allowed the flight to cross its airspace, halving what would otherwise have been a long trip around the Arabian peninsula.
“This is the first time this has ever happened. I would like to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for making that possible,” Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, said on arrival in Abu Dhabi.
The word “peace” was written in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the cockpit of the El Al flight that landed in the Emirates capital, where US flags flew alongside the Star of David banner. The landmark 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.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner, a key architect of Trump’s Middle East policy, said before boarding.
“The future does not have to be predetermined by the past. This is a very hopeful time.” Kushner urged the Palestinians, who have condemned the UAE deal as a betrayal of their cause, to come to the negotiating table.
“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,” he said. The accord 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, which made peace with its former battlefield enemy in 1979, and Jordan, which followed in 1994, the UAE has never fought a war with Israel.