Israel’s national airline carrier El Al will operate the first commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on Monday following a US-brokered normalization pact between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) earlier this month.
The flight was listed on the Israel Airports Authority’s website on Friday as ELY 971, set to take off in the morning hours of Monday, August 31, and the return flight, ELY 972, from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, is set for Tuesday morning. The flights numbers are a nod to the countries’ respective calling codes: +971 for the UAE, and +972 for Israel.
Monday’s flight, on a narrowed Boeing 737-900 aircraft, will be carrying senior delegations from the US and Israel for further talks with UAE officials on issues such as trade and travel before an expected signing ceremony. Israel is hoping for a mid-September signing event, according to Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis.
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of US President Donald Trump and a trusted senior advisor, will lead the US delegation. Kushner made his way to Israel on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials ahead of the official trip. National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will lead the Israeli delegation to the UAE.
On Saturday, the UAE formally ended its economic boycott of Israel, in place since 1972, after UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is also the ruler of Abu Dhabi, signed an official decree. It paves the way for Israeli and Emirati companies and organizations to build ties in business, finance, tourism, tech, and academia more openly. Quiet ties between the UAE and Israel have been in place for several decades.
“Following the abolition of the Israel boycott law, individuals and companies in the UAE may enter into agreements with bodies or individuals residing in Israel or belonging to it by their nationality, in terms of commercial, financial operations, or any other dealings of any nature,” the UAE state-run WAM news agency quoted the decree as saying.
“The decree of the new law comes within the UAE’s efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel,” WAM further reported, and lays out “a roadmap toward launching joint cooperation, leading to bilateral relations by stimulating economic growth and promoting technological innovation.”
The decree was received warmly in Jerusalem. “I welcome the decision of United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed to cancel the law on boycotting products from Israel and economic contacts with Israelis. This is an important step in promoting prosperity and peace in the region,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued late Saturday by the government press office.
UAE-Israel ties and future cooperation
Quiet ties between the UAE and Israel may have been in place for several decades, but a formal agreement was greeted with hope and excitement for a joint future. The UAE is the third Arab country to have diplomatic relations with Israel.
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“The announcement to fully normalize the ties between Israel and the UAE has made public a clandestine relationship that has existed for the past few decades,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, in a press statement after the announcement. “As opposed to the ‘cold peace’ with Egypt and Jordan, this relationship includes the possibility for mutually beneficial trade and commerce between the two countries and a genuine exchange of ideas and even tourism between the two peoples.”
Following the historic August 13 announcement of the Israel-UAE normalization pact, formally called the Abraham Accord, a number of joint deals and agreements were quickly announced. And they target a variety of fields including COVID-19 and health tech research.
Israel’s Pluristem and Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding to develop therapies for diseases including COVID-19; and UAE-based APEX National Investment and Israel’s TeraGroup announced a strategic commercial agreement to develop research and studies on the novel coronavirus.
These two developments came after Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) entered a historic collaboration agreement with Group 42, a company based in Abu Dhabi, to develop new COVID-19 focused systems and improve the healthcare situation of the entire region. The parties quietly announced this deal a month prior to the formal accord between the countries.
And more is likely in the offing.
The White House said Israel and the UAE are further expected to announce “bilateral agreements on investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecoms, energy, healthcare, culture, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit.”
Late last week, Bloomberg reported that two of the biggest banks in Israel and Dubai, the most populous city in the UAE and one of the seven emirates that make up the federation, are in talks for unspecified cooperation.
Recently, a leading Israeli law firm, GKH Law Offices, announced a webinar for Israeli entrepreneurs and business people focused on “local regulation, taxation, banking, the structure of the legal system and business opportunities in the UAE,” in collaboration with the Dubai law firm BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP.