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What they said: ‘historic’ Israel to UAE flight

Israel and the UAE made history on Monday when an El Al jet flew from the Jewish state to Abu Dhabi, the first time an Israeli commercial flight made the journey.

Here is a pick of quotes from the key players following the trip which came after the surprise announcement of the US-brokered deal which normalised ties between Israel and the UAE.

– ‘Truly historic’ –

White House adviser Jared Kushner led the joint Israeli-US delegation that flew on the landmark service between Israel and United Arab Emirates, describing it as “truly historic”.

“I ask everyone today to join us in celebrating this peace, and to help us expand it throughout the region,” he said as Washington publicly holds out hope its other allies in the region might follow the UAE and do a deal with Israel.

No such breakthrough has been forthcoming despite vigorous US diplomacy.

– Fly faster… over Saudi –

Kushner said the delegation had asked the El Al pilots, who are typically recruited from the ranks of Israel’s airforce, to “fly faster because there is great urgency (for) the people of both countries to break down barriers”.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, who is also his Middle East fixer, said the flight had crossed Saudi Arabia — a first for an Israeli commercial jet.

The El Al pilot used an inflight announcement to point out that the green light from the kingdom cut the journey from more than seven hours to just over three hours.

“We are all excited and look forward to more historic flights that will take us to other capital cities in the region,” he said to applause, in an on-board video featuring a beaming Kushner that was posted by his wife Ivanka.

“History Made!” she said in the tweet.

– ‘No limits’ –

Much has been made by Washington of the potential for trade and exchange between the two highly developed Middle East economies.

“There are no limits to cooperation… in the fields of education, innovation, health, aviation, agriculture, energy and many other fields,” said Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, who spoke Arabic standing beside Kushner on the tarmac shortly after arrival.

– First Pope, now Israel –

Kushner was fulsome in his praise for Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

“Last year he celebrated the year of tolerance and welcomed Pope Francis to the Gulf — and this year he welcomes Israel,” he said.

He went on to describe Sheikh Mohamed, Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “three great leaders (who) came together and… started writing the script for a new Middle East”.

– The Palestinians –

The festivities on the tarmac of Abu Dhabi airport were staged in front of an aircraft adorned with the word “peace” in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

But Palestinians have protested the UAE deal, seeing it as a betrayal by a major player in the Arab world, which has largely held that normalisation with Israel is workable only once the Palestinian question resolved.

Kushner told the Palestinian leadership not to be “stuck in the past”.

“They have to come to the table, they have to figure out how do we do something that benefits everybody and allow everyone to move forward,” he said.

He had stern words for unspecified figures who have rejected the deal, accusing them of “trapping their own people in misery and poverty”.

– ‘Israeli delegation’ –

In line with coronavirus protocols in the UAE, American embassy staff at the Abu Dhabi arrival ceremony wore white masks emblazoned with the three flags of the participating countries.

Amid the festive mood, two women took selfies with the El Al Boeing 737, which stood out with its Star of David insignia, as a backdrop on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi.

When asked by an AFP correspondent where they were from, they replied simply “Israeli delegation” before quickly moving away.