Presidential senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was among a group of top U.S. and Israeli officials traveling to the United Arab Emirates from Israel on Monday in the first direct flight operated by an Israeli airline to the Gulf kingdom.
The flight was the result of a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the UAE that has been touted as a great foreign policy victory by President Donald Trump ahead of November’s presidential election, as well as by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, if the agreements are signed, will be the first Israeli leader to officially normalize relations with a Gulf state.
The U.S. and Israeli delegations were flying from Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airportto the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, for meetings with their Emirati counterparts after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize relations on Aug. 13 in a U.S.-brokered diplomatic breakthrough.
Officials on the Boeing 737-900 that is emblazoned with the word ‘peace’ in Hebrew, Arabic and English also included National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and an Israeli delegation headed by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat.
“I prayed yesterday at the wall that Muslims and Arabs from throughout the world will be watching this flight recognizing that we’re all children of God and that the future does not have to be predetermined by the past,” Kushner told reporters before boarding the El Al flight, an apparent reference to to the Western Wall, the last remaining part of the second temple of the biblical period and the holiest site where Jews can pray.
The captain of the aircraft, Tal Becker, told reporters ahead of the 11:21 a..m (4:21 a.m ET) departure that he had never dreamed he would pilot a flight to Abu Dhabi.
Becker later confirmed that the plane will fly through Saudi airspace and the flight was expected to take three hours and 20 minutes. If it was not going over Saudi Arabia it would have been more than a seven hour flight, he said.
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The normalization agreement is the first such arrangement between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was made possible partly due to a shared animosity toward Iran. Israel currently has peace deals with only two Arab countries — Egypt and Jordan — where it has fortified embassies.
If the Israeli and UAE officials go ahead and sign an official bilateral agreement in coming weeks it could give Trump a foreign-policy boost as he vies for re-election.
The Palestinians meanwhile have decried the agreement and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman has called the UAE’s actions a “betrayal” of Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause.
The U.S. and Israeli delegations will remain in the UAE until Tuesday and their visit will include meetings between the heads of the delegations, the Israeli prime minister’s media adviser said in a statement.
There will also be discussions between Israeli, Emirati and American representatives on a number of areas including diplomacy, finance, aviation, tourism, science and investments and trade, the statement said.
On the delegations’ arrival in Abu Dhabi, an official reception will be held at the airport, it added.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari contributed.