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US-Israeli delegation to take 1st direct flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat next week

Trump official says team headed by Kushner and Berkowitz will land in Israel Monday, jet off the next day for Morocco to advance recently announced normalization deal

Illustrative: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin disembark from a plane upon their arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)
Illustrative: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin disembark from a plane upon their arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

A joint US-Israeli delegation is set to visit the kingdom of Morocco next week on the first-ever nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat, a senior US administration official told The Times of Israel Tuesday.

A senior US delegation, headed by US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and the administration’s envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Avi Berkowitz, is scheduled to land in Israel next Monday.

The following day, they will be joined by Prime Minister Benjamin’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and other Israeli officials for the flight to the Moroccan capital from Ben Gurion Airport. Representatives of Israeli media are expected to be able to accompany the delegation.

The historic trip will take place less than two weeks after the North African Kingdom country announced that it was establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state following a decision by Trump to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco became the fourth country in four months to announce its plans to normalize ties with Israel at the Trump administration’s behest, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

The first-ever direct commercial flights from Israel to the parties to the so-called Abraham Accords have become something of a ceremonial affair, with senior officials such as Kushner, Berkowitz, Ben-Shabbat and others taking part in visits to the UAE and Bahrain for high-level meetings to advance the normalization agreements.

US officials make statements at Ben Gurion Airport ahead of the first direct Israel-Bahrain passenger flight. October 18, 2020 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Netanyahu had planned to travel to the UAE himself next week but was reportedly forced to postpone the trip due to the spiraling political situation in Israel, which is poised to call its fourth election in just two years.

While the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain have progressed relatively smoothly, the deal with Sudan has reportedly hit a stumbling block.

Sudan confirmed in October that it had agreed to normalization in exchange for being removed from the US terror blacklist. The US on Monday formally removed Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, 27 years after putting the country on its blacklist.

US Congress still has to approve a bill that would give Sudan immunity from future lawsuits in the US by victims of terrorism. Khartoum has indicated it may pull out of the normalization deal with Israel if the bill doesn’t go through, according to a New York Times report earlier this month.

Morocco on Thursday announced a “resumption of relations” with Israel, shortly after Trump tweeted that Rabat and the Jewish state had “agreed to full diplomatic relations.”

Israel and Morocco established low-level diplomatic relations during the 1990s following a thawing of ties between Israel and the Palestinians. Those contacts, however, were suspended in 2002 in response to the Second Intifada. Since then, the relationship has continued informally, with tens of thousands of Israelis traveling to Morocco every year. Some 3,000 Jews still live in Morocco, once home to hundreds of thousands.

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