On a historic first visit by an Arab Gulf nation, a United Arab Emirates delegation arrived in Israel on Tuesday to cement the normalization agreement signed last month.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other US officials accompanied the delegation on Etihad Airways flights from Abu Dhabi to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.
They received a red carpet by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Finance Minister Israel Katz.
“We are creating history in a way that will last for generations,” Netanyahu said.
“I believe that the visit of such a high delegation from the UAE … will show our people, the region and the whole world the benefit of having friendly, peaceful and normal exchanges.”
The United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign agreements to establish formal ties with Israel.
The agreements, mediated by US President Donald Trump, were largely forged due to common fears of Iran and Washington, and its allies have said they will promote regional peace and stability. But they have provoked anger from the Palestinians.
Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, described Tuesday’s UAE visit as “shameful”.
Speaking in Ramallah on the Israeli-occupied West Bank, he said it came amid the Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.
“The bilateral agreements announced today and the delegations that come and go, all of this gives the occupation the strength to escalate its aggression and its crimes against the Palestinian people and increase its irreconcilability and arrogance,” he said.
In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the Islamist group Hamas, said: “Such a visit will only encourage the occupation to pursue the gradual annexation of the West Bank,” he added.
The five-hour visit would be limited to the airport near Tel Aviv due to coronavirus problems, Israeli organizers said.
“This is a historic moment for the UAE country and Israel, and we look forward to salaam (peace) … in the region,” one of the Etihad pilots could be heard saying in a video posted on Twitter by the US envoy to the Middle East. Ari Berkowitz.
Berkowitz and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are accompanying the Emirati delegation led by Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq al-Mari and Finance Minister Obaid Humaid al-Tayer, according to a UAE spokeswoman.
U.S. officials had on Sunday joined an Israeli delegation to Bahrain for a signing ceremony to formalize ties.
Israel and the United Arab Emirates have already signed several commercial offers since mid-August, when they first announced they would establish a full relationship.
Israeli officials said the two sides were expected to sign a mutual visa waiver agreement – Israel’s first with an Arab country.