Israel, UAE hope to start direct flights within weeks — Foreign Ministry chief
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Israel, UAE hope to start direct flights within weeks — Foreign Ministry chief

Alon Ushpiz says ‘top priority’ in talks has been opening mutual embassies quickly, and that a joint conference on coronavirus will be held within 2 weeks

El Al's airliner, carrying a US-Israeli delegation to the UAE, landing on the tarmac at the Abu Dhabi airport, August 31, 2020. (Karim SAHIB / AFP)
El Al's airliner, carrying a US-Israeli delegation to the UAE, landing on the tarmac at the Abu Dhabi airport, August 31, 2020. (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

Israel and the United Arab Emirates hope to establish direct flights between them within weeks, Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz said Tuesday, adding that both sides also want to open mutual embassies “quickly.”

Asked in an interview with Army Radio whether direct flights would happen in the coming weeks, Ushpiz said: “I can definitely tell you that is the goal. We need to get this over with quickly because both sides want it, but also because this should be a peace deal whose dividends should be felt in the people’s daily lives, no matter where they live.”

Ushpiz was part of an Israeli delegation that left the UAE Tuesday after completing a historic first official visit in the wake of the normalization agreement reached last month.

He said that work had been done to agree on direct flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi — and possibly also Dubai — and enabling Israelis to get visas for both tourism and business.

Ushpiz said the mutual opening of embassies had been the “top priority” for both sides in the talks. He declined to provide an estimated timeframe for that, but said the UAE’s foreign minister and Foreign Ministry employees he spoke with all wanted the opening of embassies to happen “quickly.”

“They added that ‘it is the natural development of diplomatic relations between two countries,'” Ushpiz said.

Alon Ushpiz (YouTube screenshot)

He said good progress had also been made on health issues and that the opportunities in that field were “simply wonderful,” including in pediatrics and emergency medicine.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy has agreed with UAE authorities to host a joint conference on the coronavirus within two weeks.

He said the talks even raised the possibility of collaboration on matters related to space technology.

Ushpiz also highlighted the importance of financial cooperation, on which the sides have already signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Tuesday said the MOU was signed by Prime Minister’s Office acting director-general Ronen Peretz and by the governor of the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates, Abdulhamid Saeed.

Emirati and other traders at the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, August 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

According to the MOU, Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi will form a joint committee to promote cooperation in finance and investments. That will entail removing financial obstacles currently preventing mutual investment between the countries, and advancing joint investments in the capital market.

The countries will also discuss promoting cooperation in banking and payment regulation.

They will “create a special work group to create the conditions for joint investments that meet international standards, including in fighting money laundering and terror financing,” the PMO statement said.

On Monday, hours after the first-ever direct Israeli flight to the United Arab Emirates touched down in Abu Dhabi carrying the Israeli delegation, Netanyahu said that the normalization deal with the UAE was the beginning of a “new normal” in the Middle East and would be followed by other regional developments.

Listing all his trips to Middle Eastern countries and meetings with regional leaders in recent years, Netanyahu said his policies had allowed Israel to develop relations with countries “we were always told we would never be able to.”

Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to establish official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and shared enmity toward Iran.

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