A leading businessman from the United Arab Emirates said Sunday he was already in talks with Israeli airline Israir on establishing direct flights between Israel and the UAE, hailing the recently announced normalization deal between the two countries as a “great” opportunity for both nations.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 13, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, a billionaire real estate tycoon and philanthropist, confirmed his company was in talks with Israir.
“That’s true, my team and the Israeli team, there were talks this afternoon approaching each other regarding commercial airline and charters for tourists,” he said.
“Definitely, my team is negotiating and I hope we will reach an agreement to benefit both the Israeli company and the UAE,” he said.
Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that they are 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 as tourism, direct flights and embassies.
While Israel has official ties with Egypt and Jordan, that has not translated to warm relations between the peoples, with many still wary of publicly associating with Israel.
This stands in stark contrast to leading public and private figures from the UAE, who have been engaging with Israel in the media in recent days, talking up the benefits of the deal for both sides.
Al Habtoor, who has long been a vocal proponent of the UAE establishing ties with Israel, enthused over the deal and appeared especially eager for cooperation to start, saying he had already discussed ideas with Israeli friends.
“It is a great decision taken by Israeli leaders and UAE leaders, I mean, what they have done, really, it is great,” Al Habtoor said. “This will make a huge difference between our two countries and for other countries that will follow soon,” he said.
“Let me explain something. The United Arab Emirates, I call it the land of opportunity and this is a chance for the Israeli business people and for the tourists who would like to visit, we have variety. It is a very, very rich country,” he said.
It’s a scenario shared by Israel’s Economy Ministry, which has estimated that the normalization could see Israeli exports to the UAE reach an annual $300-$500 million. UAE investments in Israel were predicted to amount to up to $350 million a year.
The Palestinians have slammed the deal as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause, but Al Habtoor said that Palestinians could also reap great economic benefits from the normalization agreement if they give up playing at ‘loser theater.'”
“The majority of Palestinians, I know them from the time of Yasser Arafat, they want to have a peace, but sometimes they are playing at a theater, but a loser theater, unfortunately,” he said.
“I can assure you more than 70 percent of Palestinians want to work. There are lots of Palestinians, and a lot of Arab Palestinians in Israel that are very, very rich, they own property, companies and they are doing a great job, this is an opportunity for them to work.”
Sunday also saw telephone services between the UAE and Israel initiated, as the two countries started opening diplomatic ties. Israeli news websites that had previously been blocked by UAE authorities could be accessed without using intermediary means to bypass internet filtering in the Emirates.
Emirati officials said Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan had called his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi.
Early Sunday, the Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency announced that a UAE company had signed an agreement with an Israeli company for research and study of the coronavirus pandemic.