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UAE to open to Israelis in coming weeks, before visa-waiver deal takes effect

As mutual program will take at least 30 days to begin, Foreign Ministry says Emiratis will allow airlines to grant permits electronically; El Al announces flights from December 13

An El Al airliner carrying Israeli and US delegations to Abu Dhabi for talks takes off from Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
An El Al airliner carrying Israeli and US delegations to Abu Dhabi for talks takes off from Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed on a plan that will allow Israelis to travel to the Gulf nation within days, even before a mutual visa-waiver program comes into effect, the Foreign Ministry announced on Monday.

The two nations, which established formal diplomatic relations in September, have signed and ratified the visa-waiver program. However, it will only go into effect 30 days after both countries send each other official missives about the program.

The Foreign Ministry said it handed such a missive to its Emirati counterpart on Monday, without saying whether the UAE ministry had done the same.

Until the program takes effect, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and ministry officials asked Abu Dhabi for an interim solution for visa-free travel, the Foreign Ministry said.

They agreed that Israeli airlines would be granted permits to enter the UAE for all Israeli passengers on their flights via an electronic process.

Israel’s national carrier El Al said Monday that, starting on December 13, it will operate 14 weekly flights to Dubai, including three on Sundays and Thursdays and two on other days, presumably excluding Saturdays.

Prices will start at $299 (about NIS 1,000) per ticket, the company said, with premium tickets starting at $599 (more than NIS 2,000) and Business Class tickets at $899 (NIS 3,000 and change).

PM Netanyahu addresses the cabinet before it votes on the peace treaty with the UAE, October 12, 2020. (GPO)

Israel’s cabinet on Sunday ratified the mutual visa exemption agreement. The ministers voted unanimously to approve the treaty, which was signed in Tel Aviv last month. The UAE government reportedly ratified the agreement on November 1.

The UAE-Israel visa exemption agreement will mean that citizens from both countries will be allowed to enter each other’s countries without having to go through the hassle of applying for a visa first.

It is the first such arrangement between the Jewish state and an Arab country. Notably, even Israel’s closest ally, the United States, has so far refused to sign a visa exemption agreement with the Jewish state.

During a visit to Israel by Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani last week, Israel and Bahrain — which have similarly recently normalized relations with US mediation — signed an agreement allowing citizens from each country to apply online for a visa to the other country by December 1.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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