After accompanying an Israeli delegation to the United Arab Emirates for historic normalisation talks, White House adviser Jared Kushner set off on a tour of other Gulf capitals on Tuesday, looking for more Arab support.
Israel and the UAE set up a joint committee to cooperate on financial services at the talks in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. Kushner, United States President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, accompanied the Israeli delegation Monday on what was billed as the first Israeli commercial flight to the influential Gulf monarchy, which agreed in August to normalise relations with Israel.
Israel exchanged embassies with neighbours Egypt and Jordan under peace deals decades ago. But until now, all other Arab states had demanded it first cede more land to the Palestinians, prompting criticism from stakeholders across the region.
Palestinians have condemned the deal as a stab in the back by a major Arab player while they still lack a state of their own. Turkey threatened to suspend relations with the UAE after normalisation was announced.
Israel’s archrival Iran has been scathing in its criticism. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted Tuesday that “the UAE betrayed the world of Islam, the Arab nations, the region’s countries, and Palestine”.
— Khamenei.ir 🏴 (@khamenei_ir) September 1, 2020
Kushner later flew to Bahrain and then Saudi Arabia and is expected also to visit Qatar.
In Bahrain, which houses the US naval headquarters for the region, the state news agency reported that during his meeting with Kushner, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa had praised the role the UAE has played in defending Arab and Islamic interests.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Kushner discussed the need for the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume negotiations and reach a lasting peace, state news agency SPA reported.
Looking at Israel media, you’d get impression they are celebrating UAE ties. When you consider they could’ve had ties w/ 57 Arab & Muslims countries (lots more direct flights!) if they just adhered to intl law you realize what they are actually celebrating today is impunity.
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) August 31, 2020
While no further officials made statements that suggested they would soon recognise Israel, in remarks reported by the UAE state news agency WAM, Kushner suggested other Arab states could follow quickly.
Asked when the next would normalise ties with Israel, he was quoted as saying: “Let’s hope it’s months.”
Saudi Arabia allowed the El Al charter flight carrying Kushner and the Israelis to use its airspace, in spite of its public resistance to normalisation.
There are overlapping regional interests between Israel and Gulf Arab states, which are mainly ruled by Sunni Muslim monarchs who consider their biggest foe to be Shia Iran.
Israel has long held out the promise that their common enemy could bring them together, in spite of regional opposition to Israeli expansion on the occupied Palestinian territories.
That pic of Sheikh Zayed in the middle with Kushner, a staunch supporter of far-right Israeli illegal settlers, sitting under it and at the center of the room.
Zayed’s legacy in the UAE and the Arab world dragged through the mud. What a shame. pic.twitter.com/cWgPqBig4C
— Mohammed (@MohamedHemish) September 1, 2020
Iran’s derisive comments were not limited to Twitter. In a fiery speech on Tuesday, Khamenei said: “The Emiratis will be disgraced forever for this treachery against the Islamic world, Arab nations and Palestine.
“The UAE, along with Israelis and evil Americans like the Jewish member of Trump’s family, are working together against the interests of the Islamic world,” Khamenei said, referring to Kushner, who is Jewish.
Asked about Khamenei’s remarks, UAE Foreign Ministry official Jamal al-Musharakh told reporters in Abu Dhabi: “The path to peace and prosperity is not paved with incitement and hate speech.”
Israeli officials have played up the economic benefits of the UAE deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said representatives of the two countries had signed an agreement on cooperation in financial services.
Pompeo Middle East trip: Push to improve relations with Israel
The state-run Abu Dhabi Investment Office and Invest in Israel, part of Israel’s economy ministry, issued a joint statement saying they had agreed to set out a plan to establish formal cooperation.
The Gulf state’s biggest lender, First Abu Dhabi Bank, later said it would open discussions with Israel lenders Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi.
Amid the historic normalisation talks, Kushner spent a morning meeting UAE military officials at an Abu Dhabi airbase that houses US military F-35 jets, advanced stealth aircraft that the Gulf state has long sought to buy despite Israeli objections.
The UAE has said normalisation should remove any hurdle blocking the sale. Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel still opposes selling the jets to the UAE.