Oct 20, 2020 - World

Deals on flights and visas sealed in first official UAE visit to Israel

The delegation lands at Israel's Ben Gurion airport. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty

The first official visit of UAE officials to Israel took place on Tuesday, a month after the signing of a U.S.-brokered normalization treaty.

What's happening: The two sides signed agreements on direct flights, mutual visa exemptions and investments. The agreements are designed to get relations moving and allow business travelers and tourists to travel freely between the countries as soon as possible, Israeli officials told me.

On board the Etihad Airlines flight from Abu Dhabi were the Emirati finance and economy ministers, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House envoy Avi Berkowitz.

  • Two senior aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been in the UAE to prepare for the visit and were also on the plane.

Why it matters: Israel had never before struck a deal on mutual visa exemptions with any Arab country, mainly for security reasons.

  • While Israel also has diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, their citizens need to go through a long vetting process before receiving a visa to travel to Israel.
  • The Emiratis made the issue a priority, telling their Israeli counterparts it would signal to both peoples that this was a "warm peace," unlike those with Egypt or Jordan. Netanyahu personally gave his approval.
  • It will now be easier for Israelis to travel to the UAE than to visit the United States.

A second major agreement sets an ambitious goal of 28 direct flights between Israel and the UAE each week.

  • Two Israeli airlines and two Emirati airlines have already announced their desire to operate flights between the countries, and Israeli officials say they expect the first direct flights to begin within weeks.

What’s next: During today's visit, the Trump administration announced the establishment of the "Abraham Fund," a joint U.S., Israel, UAE initiative that aims to generate $3 billion in private sector-led investment to promote regional economic cooperation and support the political normalization process.

  • Adam Boehler, CEO of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, said at the welcome ceremony for the Emirati delegation in Tel Aviv that other countries would be welcome to participate in the fund, which will now open an office in Jerusalem.

During the visit, Emirati diplomat Omar Ghobash handed a letter to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

  • Enclosed was a formal request from Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed that the UAE be permitted to open an embassy in Israel. The letter also included a request that Israel open its own embassy in Abu Dhabi as soon as possible.
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