Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family have dropped a plan to fly to Washington on a private plane to attend the signing ceremony of Israel’s normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates, after public criticism.
They will now join the official Israeli delegation, departing Tel Aviv on Sunday evening and heading home from Washington on Tuesday afternoon.
“So as not to allow media to divert public attention from the historic peace accord with the UAE, and potentially with other Arab nations, the prime minister will fly with the delegation on a roomier plane, with strict separation arrangements to ensure his health,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The proposed private jet trip had led to some public criticism as well as decisions by Israel’s three major TV networks to pass on sending crews to cover the visit, instead assigning coverage to their US-based correspondents. The networks reportedly felt that, denied onboard briefings by the premier and forced to stay at a Washington hotel at all times except for the ceremony, there was no justification to send teams of reporters from Israel.
The flight will be operated by El Al and not Israir as previously planned.
Channel 12 news reported Friday that the private jet flight was expected to cost at least NIS 600,000 ($145,000).
Likud on Thursday had rebuffed criticism of the decision, saying in a statement: “The left and the media are looking for any excuse to minimize the historic achievement of Prime Minister Netanyahu and even to endanger his health, only because they can’t stand that he brought peace for peace and not peace for land.”
Explaining the initial decision, the Prime Minister’s Office said: “Due to fears that the prime minister could be infected with the coronavirus on a flight with more than 70 people, professional sources instructed the prime minister to fly in a separate plane that the State of Israel uses from time to time.”
The PMO had claimed the total cost of two planes flying to Washington would be half the amount that was spent to send a single plane for the prime minister on his last trip to Washington, citing the need for less security on the flight carrying the delegation.
US President Donald Trump said Thursday that another country may join Israel and the United Arab Emirates for their normalization signing ceremony at the White House.
“Next week at the White House we’ll be having a signing between the UAE and Israel, and we could have another country added into that. And I will tell you that countries are lining up that want to go into it,” Trump said during a White House press briefing.
Trump did not elaborate on the country that might be “added into” the signing, and did not specify which countries might attend the Tuesday ceremony, but said that a number of “big ones” are going to “come in,” and mentioned having spoken recently to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
“I spoke to the king of Saudi Arabia, so we’re talking. We just started the dialogue,” Trump said.
It wasn’t clear if Trump meant that another country could join Israel and the UAE at the ceremony, or join their normalization agreement.
Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations. The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Gulf Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and shared enmity toward Iran.