First El Al flight to Abu Dhabi will carry US peace team, Israeli delegation

The first direct flight from Israel to the UAE will have the U.S. peace team aboard as well as Israeli officials to negotiate details of the Abraham Accords.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi is set to take off Monday, with Israeli and American negotiators aboard who will iron out the details of the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE.

The agreement, called the Abraham Accords, was announced in principle on August 13, after years-long behind-the-scenes discussions brokered by the Trump administration.  Top American officials are coming to Israel Sunday to be on the historic flight, including senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner, international negotiations representative Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s outgoing envoy on Iran Brian Hook, and his National Security Adviser, Robert O’Brien.

El Al Israel Airlines morning flight LY971 is expected to take only three hours, according to Israel Hayom, as the Israeli carrier has received permission from Saudi Arabian authorities to fly through its airspace. Although it is widely known that Riyadh works quietly with Jerusalem as both have a great interest in containing Iran, the two countries do not have diplomatic relations, and this approval could not be considered automatic by any means.

The flight number is not coincidental: 971 is the country code for calling the UAE. The return flight to Tel Aviv later the same day will be 972, which is Israel’s country code. The El Al Pilots Association announced that it had given “special approval” for a few of its members to return to work “for the benefit of this significant and historic flight for the entire people of Israel.”

The Israeli carrier had grounded its entire fleet two months ago due to the company’s financial straits following the travel industry’s shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In line with the UAE’s high-priority interests, the 50-person Israeli delegation will be headed by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and include the directors-general of the ministries of defense, health and science.

To pave the way for the expected host of trade agreements between public companies and private firms in the two states after the accords are signed, UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan officially lifted his country’s economic boycott of Israel on Saturday. The move was reported on all state media networks and sites, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the president on “this important step towards promoting property and peace in the region.”

Abu Dhabi is also thinking of the comfort of its breakthrough visitors, and will provide kosher food for those who keep the Jewish dietary laws, Israel Hayom reported. At least one of the Israelis, Ben-Shabbat, is religiously observant. A crew from the Orthodox Union’s international kashruth division will make the kitchen kosher in the hotel where the negotiators will stay for the day.

After participating in talks in Abu Dhabi, the American delegation is expected to go on to Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman. White House officials have said that Oman and Bahrain may be the next in line to normalize relations with the Jewish State, and the current round of visits is seen as part of the ongoing administration attempts to encourage those ties.

According to CNN, diplomatic and congressional sources have said that Kushner is asking these countries to attend the formal signing ceremony between Israel and the UAE that will be held in the White House in the next month or two if the negotiations succeed as expected. Such a foreign policy win with its attendant global publicity would be important in burnishing the president’s credentials in the weeks leading to the American elections in November.