Middle East

In Israel, Kushner says ‘stage is set’ for Mideast progress

JERUSALEM (AP) — White House adviser Jared Kushner on Sunday trumpeted the recent agreement by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to establish diplomatic relations as a historic breakthrough and said “the stage is set” for other Arab states to follow suit, but he gave no indication that any new deals were imminent.

Appearing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Kushner spoke a day before he is to join a senior Israeli delegation on the first commercial flight from Israel to the UAE. The flight holds great symbolic value and is a key step in what is expected to be full normalization between Israel and the UAE.

The Aug. 13 announcement makes the UAE just the third Arab country to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, and the first to do so in over 25 years. It reflects a shifting Middle East in which shared concerns over Iran have overtaken traditional wall-to-wall Arab support for the Palestinians.

“Today obviously we celebrate a historic breakthrough for peace,” Kushner said, adding that the deal will create “previously unthinkable” economic, security and religious cooperation.

“While this peace agreement was thought by many to be impossible, the stage is now set for even more,” he said, claiming he has heard optimism throughout the region since the deal was announced.

“We must seize that optimism and we must continue to push to make this region achieve the potential that it truly has,” said Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Mideast adviser.

Israel and the UAE have moved quickly to cement their ties over the past two weeks. Almost immediately, they opened direct phone lines, and Cabinet ministers have held friendly phone conversations.

On Saturday, the UAE formally ended its commercial boycott of Israel, although the two countries have quietly conducted business for years. Monday’s flight of an El Al plane from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi will be the first known flight of an Israeli commercial airliner from Israel to the Emirates. The two Mideast countries are expected to sign a formal agreement at the White House in the coming weeks.

But so far, predictions by Israeli and American officials, including Kushner, that other Arab countries would follow the UAE have not yet materialized.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo toured the region last week, stopping in Sudan, Bahrain and Oman — three countries widely seen as candidates to establish ties with Israel — but appeared to leave empty-handed.

The flurry of US diplomatic activity comes as the Trump administration presses ahead with ambitious plans to promote Arab-Israeli rapprochement even in the absence of a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which had long been seen as a prerequisite for Israel to reach peace deals with all of its Arab neighbors.

Gulf Arab countries, which like Israel share deep animosity toward Iran, have shown an increasing willingness to make back-channel ties with Israel public.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement with the UAE would bring “unbridled” trade and opportunities.

“You will see how the sparks fly,” he said.

Trump unveiled a Mideast plan in January that has been rejected by the Palestinians, who say it unfairly favors Israel.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state. The Trump plan offers them limited autonomy in 70 percent of the West Bank, leaving Israel in overall control of the territory, and a symbolic presence on the outskirts of Jerusalem, while handing Israel control of the city’s sensitive holy sites.

Netanyahu said the deal with the UAE proves the Palestinians no longer have a “veto” over regional peace. The Palestinians have accused the UAE of treason.

“If we have to wait for the Palestinians, we will have to wait forever,” Netanyahu said. “As more Arab and Muslim countries join the circle of peace, the Palestinians will eventually understand their veto has dissipated and they will be hard pressed to stay outside the community of peace.”

Image: White House adviser Jared Kushner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, make joint statements to the press about the Israeli-United Arab Emirates peace accords, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Kushner is trumpeting the recent agreement by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to establish diplomatic relations as a historic breakthrough and said “the stage is set” for other Arab states to follow suit. (Debbie Hill/Pool Photo via AP)

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