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

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senior U.S. Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner make joint statements about the Israeli-United Arab Emirates peace accords in Jerusalem, August 30, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool via REUTERS)

JERUSALEM (NewsNation) — 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 Kushner gave no indication that any new deals were imminent.

Appearing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. 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. El Al released pictures of the Boeing 737-900 jet that will take the delegates. The word “peace” in English, Hebrew and Arabic is inscribed on the exterior above the cockpit windows for the occasion.

The Aug. 13 deal 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.

The agreement requires Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians. But many Palestinians have criticized the accord as undercutting one of its few bargaining chips with Israelis in moribund peace negotiations.

On Saturday, the UAE formally ended its commercial boycott of Israel, although the two countries have quietly conducted business for years.

The two Mideast countries are expected to sign a formal agreement at the White House in the coming weeks.

Israel hopes to hold the signing ceremony in Washington by mid-September, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said on Sunday.

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

U.S. 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 U.S. diplomatic activity comes as the Trump administration presses ahead with 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.

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% 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.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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