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Mnuchin to lead Israeli-American delegation to UAE and Bahrain

US Treasury Secretary to head group leaving Israel on Saturday to ‘support expanded economic cooperation’ following Abraham Accords

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks about the coronavirus stimulus package in the James Brady Briefing Room, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks about the coronavirus stimulus package in the James Brady Briefing Room, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will lead an American-Israeli delegation to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to move forward with Jerusalem’s recently inked normalization agreements with the Gulf states, the US Treasury said on Friday.

The delegation will leave Israel on Saturday, and the trip will wrap up on Tuesday, the statement said.

The group will first visit the Bahraini capital of Manama, then proceed to Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, before returning to Israel.

Avi Berkowitz, the US administration’s envoy to the Middle East, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, will also join the trip, along with other US Treasury and embassy officials.

The trip will “support expanded economic cooperation under the Abraham Accords signed by the three countries last month,” the Treasury statement said.

The Israeli delegation heading to Manama will make history by taking the first-ever commercial nonstop flight from Israel to the Gulf kingdom. Ben Gurion Airport departure listings show El Al Flight 973, the same number as Bahrain’s international telephone code, Reuters reported.

The return flight will be the first direct commercial flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi.

However, Manama is slowing the pace of proceedings toward the signing of a full-fledged peace deal, the Walla news site reported Friday, with the kingdom preferring to sign “a joint communique on establishing peaceful and diplomatic relations,” stopping short of the full normalization agreement signed between Israel and the UAE.

Previous reports said the delegation would depart Israel on Sunday.

According to the Walla report, also published on the US Axios news site, the Bahrainis want to move forward more cautiously than the UAE due to some domestic opposition to the move.

Nevertheless, the communique was still considered to be progress and expands on the initial declaration signed in Washington.

In this September 15, 2020 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan pose for a photo on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

In addition to the already agreed establishment of full diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, the communique will see both sides commit to not engage in any hostile actions against one another and act to prevent such actions on their territories by third parties.

It will also highlight the areas of intended cooperation: investment, civil aviation, tourism, trade, science and technology, the environment, communications, health, agriculture, water, energy and legal affairs.

Leading the Israeli delegation will be National Security Council Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz.

Despite only being an interim document, the declaration with Bahrain may well be brought before the cabinet for ratification and possibly before the Knesset as well, Walla reported.

On Tuesday, a delegation from the UAE will arrive in Israel to move forward with Abu Dhabi’s respective normalization agreement. The UAE and Israel are further along in the process, having agreed to normalize relations a month before Bahrain followed suit. Accordingly, Israel and the UAE signed a more detailed peace agreement, which is believed to carry more legal weight than the peace declaration signed with Bahrain.
Due to concerns regarding the coronavirus though, the UAE delegation may not leave Ben Gurion Airport and fly home the same day.

“Right now it looks kind of ‘touch and go’. It’s possible that the meetings will be at the airport or close to it,” Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shai told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM on Friday.

On Thursday, the Knesset approved Israel’s normalization deal with the UAE with an overwhelming majority, all but ensuring that it will be ratified in the near future.

Eighty lawmakers voted in favor of the agreement, including many from the opposition. Only 13 parliamentarians — all from the Arab-majority Joint List — voted against the agreement, criticizing it as a scheme to undermine the Palestinian people.

Now approved by the Knesset, the so-called Abraham Accords will return to the desks of ministers, who will vote on them once more. Once ratified, the agreement enters into force for Israel, but full diplomatic relations between the two countries will not be established until the UAE ratifies the agreement as well.

Emirati officials have started the process of approving and ratifying the agreement, which was signed by the two parties in Washington on September 15, but it is unclear when it will conclude.

Once both parties have ratified the agreement, the treaty will be transmitted to the secretary-general of the United Nations for registration in the UN Treaty Series, a massive compendium of international treaties.

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