ABU DHABI – An Israeli delegation landed on Monday afternoon in Abu Dhabi to formalize the U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates.
The delegation is headed by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, joined by his U.S. counterpart Robert O'Brien and senior U.S. Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner.
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The first meeting between the delegation and Emirati officials following the arrival included discussion of the possibility of opening embassies in the UAE and Israel and of signing bilateral agreements to improve ties, according to a Foreign Ministry statement. The meeting was headed on the Israeli side by Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Ushpiz.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference back in Israel that he had been "working for this day for 25 years," promising "a different kind of peace" marked by economic investment and cooperation. “It will be a warm peace because it is based on economic cooperation,” Netanyahu said.
"I must tell you that this is also a personal moment for me, coinciding with an international one," said the prime minister. He said a reciprocal delegation from the UAE had been invited to Israel. "On my instructions, Meir Ben-Shabbat has invited representatives of the Emirates to Israel. We will roll out the red carpet for them, as they did for us."
Netanyahu also responded to a question about the possible sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, saying: "It wasn't a part of the [normalization] deal and the Americans admitted it, too. Our position has not changed. During this visit, the [American] national security adviser said repeatedly, including in a meeting with me, that the U.S. is totally committed to protecting Israel's qualitative [military] advantage … I'll hear what President Trump has to say, but I don't want to jump the gun."
The prime minister hinted that more agreements with Arab countries could be in the offing. "Thre are discussions with other countries," he said. "I expect there to be additional agreements."
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He was also asked about about the potential annexation of parts of the West Bank. Kushner said earlier this month Israel would not go ahead with annexation without U.S. approval and that "we do not plan to give our consent for some time," with many settler leaders being angered by the suspension of annexation plans as part of the deal with the UAE. "About the possibility of applying soveregnty indepenently and the Palestinians don't come [to the negotiating table[, I haven't taken that off the table and I recommend waiting patiently. Historic things that are changing the Middle East are happening here."
Kushner urges Palestinians to negotiate
Responding to a question by Haaretz upon his arrival to the UAE, Kushner said the Palestinians should come to the negotiating table.
The Palestinians, however, have fiercely opposed the normalization as peeling away one of their few advantages in moribund peace talks with Israel. Palestinians have held public protests and burned the UAE flag in anger.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said it was “very painful” to see the flight, which he said was a “clear violation of the Arab position on the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
"We had hoped to see an Emirati plane landing in a liberated Jerusalem,” he added.
Kushner said in a press briefing on the plane to Abu Dhabi that he believes that Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump would discuss the potential sale of F-35 planes to the UAE in the future.
“I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president will discuss that at some point. But again I do think that there is a tremendous amount of trust that Netanyahu has in President Tump, and I believe that President Trump has earned the trust from the Israeli leadership and Israeli people.”
Asked which countries might be next to normalize ties with Israel, Kushner joked that Israelis are always asking what's next. "I do know the Israeli people very well, and one thing is, you get an accomplishment and they always say, 'what's next?'" said Kushner.
"That's why Israel has been so successful as a nation and it's why the Israeli people are incredible, but I'll just ask you for at least one day, let's try to relax and enjoy this accomplishment and this historic breakthrough. We've had a lot of years where Israel has been at war, where Israel has had people going against them. Let's take a moment to celebrate this breakthrough for peace."
Kushner added that the peace forged by Emirati and Israeli leaders was also desired by the two countries' peoples.
Kushner was also asked about the annexation issue.
"President Trump likes to keep his options open, and right now there's a focus on one thing," he said Monday. "That could change.
"But the reality is that right now there's a commitment to taking the deal that we're working on now that's been made, fully executing it, that we're seeing so much enthusiasm from Israeli businesspeople and professionals and then just tourists who want to go to the United Arab Emirates and from Emirates who want to come to Israel, so it's just such a massive opportunity now that we want to stay focused on that. But again, President Trump likes to keep as much flexibility as possible when there's no reason to give it up."
Ben-Shabbat meanwhile thanked Trump and Kushner for efforts to "arrive at this moment.
"A quarter of a century has passed since the [first] signing [of an agreement] with an Arab country until this moment," he said. "We look to a new horizon in the region, a horizon of cooperation, of technology, prosperity, support and hope."
The UAE has touted the deal as a tool to force Israel into halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. It also may help the Emirates acquire advanced U.S. weapons systems that have been previously unattainable, such as the F-35 fighter jet. Currently, Israel is the only country in the region with the stealth warplanes.
Kushner said that the United States could maintain Israel's qualitative military edge while advancing its relations with the UAE.
The Israeli and U.S. officials boarded an El Al plane on the first direct flight operated by a commercial airline between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The visit to the UAE capital will last two days and will include joint working meetings on a variety of topics, prior to signing cooperation agreements in areas such as aviation, tourism and the economy. Security will be discussed separately.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.