Rivlin invites UAE crown prince to Jerusalem for official visit

In letter to Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president expresses hope diplomatic ties will ‘march region forward’; Netanyahu says direct flights over Saudi Arabia coming

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and UAE's deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 24, 2016. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool photo via AP/File)
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and UAE's deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 24, 2016. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool photo via AP/File)

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday extended an invitation to the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates to visit Israel, after the two countries agreed on normalization.

Rivlin’s invitation to the crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was sent in Arabic and came days after the announcement of a landmark deal between Israel and the UAE on forging diplomatic ties.

The invitation was to visit “Israel and Jerusalem and be our honored guest.” Whereas Israel considers the entire city its capital, the Arab world sees East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state.

“In these fateful days, leadership is measured by its courage and ability to be groundbreaking and far-sighted,” Rivlin wrote, according to an English translation of the letter provided by his office.

President Reuven Rivlin during a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, February 16, 2020. (Flash90)

The president expressed hope that the new peace deal “will help build and strengthen the trust between us and the peoples of the region, a trust that will promote understanding between us all.

“Such trust, as demonstrated in the noble and courageous act, will set our region forward and bring economic well-being and provide prosperity and stability to the people of the Middle East as a whole,” he wrote.

“I have no doubt that future generations will appreciate the way you, the brave and wise leaders, have restarted the discourse on peace, trust, dialogue between peoples and religions, cooperation, and a promising future,” Rivlin added.

In an apparent hint that ties with the UAE could lead to diplomatic relations with other Arab states, Rivlin said that he hoped the development “will also serve as a beacon, illuminating the road ahead for others.”

An Arabic-language letter sent by President Reuven Rivlin to Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, on August 17, 2020, inviting him to visit Israel.

Rivlin met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day at the President’s Residence and praised the premier for the UAE normalization deal.

“I would like to congratulate you, [US] President [Donald] Trump and [UAE] Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed on a great achievement that could bring extremely important change in the history of the Middle East and in the history of the Israeli people and the Jewish people,” saiid Rivlin at the start of the meeting, according to a statement from his office.

Netanyahu thanked him, saying: “I greatly appreciate your support. This is an historic agreement that will benefit not only Israelis and the UAE. I think it brings closer Arab-Israeli peace that will, in the end, advance peace in general. But this is certainly a significant and important turning point.

“Here are two countries, among the most advanced in the world, and the cooperation between us will produce technological and economic possibilities in all fields, including in health and the search for a virus vaccine, and many other things. It is great news and I thank you very much for your support. It is important and I think it reflects what every Israeli feels, and so it should,” added Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence on August 17, 2020. (Gobi Gideon/GPO)

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu said Israel was working to establish direct flights between Tel Aviv and the United Arab Emirates by flying over Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu commented on some of the expected benefits of the normalization of ties with the UAE as he visited Ben Gurion Airport with Transportation Minister Miri Regev.

“We are now working on enabling direct flights over Saudi Arabia between Tel Aviv and Dubai,” Netanyahu said, noting that he believed an agreement would be reached.

“This will change Israeli aviation and the Israeli economy with a huge amount of tourism for both sides and investments,” Netanyahu said.

Israeli does not have formal ties with Saudi Arabia and Israeli planes can generally not fly over its territory, although the two countries reportedly have behind-the-scenes cooperation on some matters, in particular security.

“The Emirates are very interested in massive investments in technology in Israel,” Netanyahu continued and said that cheap products manufactured in Emirati free trade zones will become available for Israeli consumers.

“It is a boost to the Israeli economy that will benefit every citizen,” he said.

Regev said the opening of diplomatic ties with the UAE is “great news for the Israeli economy.”

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev as they visit Ben Gurion Airport, August 17, 2020. (Channel 12 news)

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, a billionaire real estate tycoon and philanthropist, told Channel 13 that he was already in talks with Israeli airline Israir on establishing direct flights.

The Economy Ministry has assessed that ties with the UAE will bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the Israeli economy every year, Channel 12 reported Sunday.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that they were establishing full diplomatic relations in a US-brokered accord, which also required Israel to suspend its contentious plan to annex West Bank land sought by the Palestinians for a future state. Israel had previously planned to unilaterally move ahead with the measures on the basis of the US peace plan.

The agreement makes the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full, active diplomatic ties with Israel. Thursday’s joint statement said deals between Israel and the UAE were expected in the coming weeks in areas that include tourism, direct flights and embassies.

Netanyahu and Regev were at Ben Gurion Airport to review developments aimed at opening up broader air travel services that have for months been restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic. The visit came a day after the Health Ministry signed off on an order exempting Israelis returning from 20 countries with low COVID-19 rates from a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

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