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Senior UAE delegation comes to Israel; Netanyahu: ‘Today we are making history’

Israeli and Emirati officials sign visa exemption agreement and announce, together with the US, a $3 billion regional development fund

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

PM Netanyahu, left, greets US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al Tayer ahead of a ceremony during which Israel and the UAE signed four bilateral agreements at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, October 20, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
PM Netanyahu, left, greets US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al Tayer ahead of a ceremony during which Israel and the UAE signed four bilateral agreements at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, October 20, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In another major milestone for Israel-Gulf relations, a delegation of senior United Arab Emirates officials arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday for a series of meetings with their Israeli counterparts.

After landing, the UAE delegation, headed by the ministers of the economy and finance and two deputy ministers, signed four bilateral agreements with Israel, including a visa waiver agreement.

During the welcoming ceremony ant Ben-Gurion Airport, the United States, Israel and the UAE also announced the creation of a trilateral fund seeking to foster regional cooperation and prosperity.

“Today we are making history,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared minutes after the Etihad plane landed in Tel Aviv. “The enthusiasm for this peace agreement among our people is enormous. It’s real, it’s broad, it’s deep, and it reflects the potential that is realized today.”

Netanyahu listed the four agreements Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi had agreed to sign — including on aviation and taxation — vowing that they will bring many benefits to the people of both countries, including regular direct flights.

“The visit of such a high-level delegation from the UAE, and the agreements we are about to sign, will show our peoples, the region and the entire world the benefit of having friendly, peaceful, normal exchanges,” he said. “I believe that more and more governments across the Middle East understand, as we do here today, that we’re so much better off working together, as friends.”

PM Netanyahu speaking at a ceremony signing during which Israel and the UAE signed four bilateral agreements at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, October 20, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Jews and Arabs are all descended from the Biblical patriarch Abraham, the prime minister went on, “and it is in his name that we have designated this historic peace initiative. In his spirit, we wish to foster a Middle East of coexistence and cooperation, of mutual understanding and mutual respect.”

Netanyahu thanked US President Donald Trump and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan for making the Emirati-Israel rapprochement possible.

“We shall remember this day, a glorious day of peace,” he declared.

Netanyahu noted that because of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, his Emirati guests will remain at the airport and cannot visit the country. He invited them to pay an additional visit once the restrictions are lifted.

From L to R: US Secretary Mnuchin, PM Netanyahu and UAE UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al Tayer at a ceremony during which Israel and the UAE signed four bilateral agreements at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, October 20, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin represented the US administration at the ceremony. “The Abraham Accord established direct economic ties between two of the Middle East’s most thriving and advanced economies. These ties create a tremendous foundation for economic growth, opportunity, innovation and prosperity,” he said.

“With greater economic prosperity comes stronger security. Along with the United States, Israel and the UAE share a similar outlook regarding threats and opportunities in the region.”

UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al Tayer said he was honored to be in Israel for what he called an “informative and productive visit to deepen the bilateral understanding and capitalizing on both countries’ leadership and great opportunities ahead of us.”

Al Tayer said Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi have made “significant progress” since they signed the Abraham Accords in Washington on September 15.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netqanyahu (C) and UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid Humaid Al Tayer (R) at Ben Gurion Airport, October 20, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

During the welcoming ceremony, representatives of the three countries announced the creation of a trilateral $3 billion fund dedicated to increasing prosperity in the wider Middle East.

The so-called Abraham Fund will be based in Jerusalem.

“The Abraham Fund investment will go a long way to boost even further the historic change that we’re doing. This is an investment in infrastructure. It’s really an investment in the future and in many projects,” Netanyahu said.

This visa exemption treaty, which needs to be ratified by both countries before coming into force, is Israel’s first such agreement with an Arab country.

“We’re exempting our nationals from visas. This will offer a huge boost for business, for tourism, for people-to-people contacts,” Netanyahu said.

In addition to the visa waiver, bilateral agreements in the areas of aviation, investment protection, science and technology were signed.

Before Etihad Flight EY8014 took off from Abu Dhabi earlier on Tuesday, Captain Naeem Alameri said: “This is a historical moment for UAE country and Israel, and we are looking forward to salaam [peace] in the future for our region.”

Tuesday’s event was the first time UAE ministers visited the Jewish state publicly since the two countries announced the normalization of ties on August 13. The visit took place a day after both the UAE and Bahrain gave parliamentary approval to their respective normalization agreements with Israel.

In addition to Al Tayer, the UAE delegation was headed by Economy Minister Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri and and two deputy ministers.

After the signing ceremony, the officials were set to sit down for a trilateral meeting, followed by a series of bilateral meetings between UAE and Israeli, and US and Israeli officials.

An Etihad Airways plane carrying a delegation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on a first official visit, lands at at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on October 20, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Before leaving Israel on a 5 p.m. flight back to Abu Dhabi, the UAE delegation will be treated to an exhibition on Israeli innovation in space technology hosted by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

On Monday, Etihad Airways Flight EY9607 — lauded as the first commercial shuttle from the UAE to Israel — landed at Ben-Gurion. That flight came a day after the two nations agreed to enable 28 weekly direct flights between their territories. The flight arrived without passengers but later ferried an Israeli travel and tourism delegation to Abu Dhabi.

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

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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