Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020

Israel PM: 'Many more' secret talks with Arab leaders on ties

JERUSALEM (AFP, REUTERS) – Israel is in secret talks with several Arab states on establishing ties, in addition to its US-backed deal struck with the UAE, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday (Aug 30).

“There are many more unpublicised meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders to normalise relations with the state of Israel,” he said on the eve of Israel’s first commercial flight to the United Arab Emirates.

The historic flight follows the Aug 13 announcement of a US-brokered agreement to normalise relations between the two countries, making the UAE the first Gulf country and only the third Arab state to establish relations with Israel after Egypt and Jordan.

The Monday morning flight will carry a US-Israeli delegation led on the American side by White House adviser Jared Kushner, who stood next to Netanyahu during the Israeli premier’s remarks.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday more Arab and Muslim countries were likely to follow the United Arab Emirates in normalising relations with Israel.

The White House official, Robert O’Brien, and Mr Kushner met Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem on the eve of talks in Abu Dhabi on Monday on finalising formal 
Israel-UAE ties. 

The Israel-UAE deal reshapes the Middle East order, from the Palestinian issue to relations with Iran. 

“We believe that other Arab and Muslim countries will soon follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead and normalise relations with Israel,” Mr O’Brien told reporters after talks at Mr Netanyahu’s residence.

 He did not name the states, but Israeli officials have publicly mentioned Oman, Bahrain and Sudan. 

Palestinians have condemned the UAE’s move as abandonment of a policy of linking official relations with Israel to achievement of Palestinian statehood in territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war. 

The Trump administration has been trying to coax other Sunni Arab countries that share Israel’s concerns about Iran to join in a regional peace push. 

Mr Kushner, speaking alongside Mr Netanyahu and Mr O’Brien, said the UAE deal was a “giant step forward” in the direction. 

“To have played a role in its creation, and I say this as the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it means more to me and to my family that I can ever express,” Mr Kushner said. 

Mr Kushner, Mr O’Brien and other US officials will join an Israeli delegation on Monday in the first flight by an Israeli commercial airline – El Al – to the UAE. 

Speaking on Israel’s Kan public radio on Sunday, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said Israel hopes to hold a signing ceremony in Washington for the UAE deal by mid-September. 

‘MEANINGLESS SPECTACLE’ 

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Mr Kushner and his team were “scrambling to convince as many Arab and Muslim leaders as possible” to attend a White House signing event and give Mr Trump a boost ahead of the Nov 3 US  presidential election. 

“They will be a prop at the backdrop of a meaningless spectacle for a ridiculous agreement that will not bring peace to the region,” Ms Ashrawi said.  

On Saturday, the UAE announced it was scrapping its economic boycott against Israel. Officials from the two countries have said they are looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology.  

Mr Netanyahu told reporters that abolishing “the anachronistic boycott” opened the door for “unbridled” trade, tourism and investment.  

Statements issued by the UAE and Israel on Sunday said the UAE minister of state and Israel’s agriculture minister spoke by phone last Friday (Aug 28) and “pledged to collaborate on projects that address food and water security”.  

The UAE, a desert state, relies on imports for around 80 per cent to 90 per cent of its food, and has heavily encouraged investments in recent years in agricultural technology and farmland investments abroad.

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