ABU DHABI, UAE - Government ministers from the UAE boarded an historic flight to Israel on Tuesday morning.
They were accompanied by a large number of government officials as well as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. special representative for international relations Avi Berkowitz, who were in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi for official talks. Berkowitz posted a photo of his flight ticket from Abu Dhabi to Israel on Twitter.
The ministerial delegation, headed by Abdullah bin Touq, the UAE's Minister of Economy, and Obaid Al Tayer, Minister of State for Financial Affairs, was greeted in Tel Aviv at Ben-Gurion Airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in company with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Finance Minister Israel Katz.
The pact between the UAE and Israel, known as the Abraham Accords, was formalized at a White House signing on 15 September hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump and other officials of his administration, including presidential advisor Jared Kushner, who reportedly played a major part in the negotiations between the Arab and Jewish states.
"Agreements will be signed on aviation, investment protection, visa exemptions... and science and technology," an Israeli government statement published earlier on Tuesday said.
One of the most significant agreements entered into on Tuesday is one which will enable citizens and residents of both Israel and the UAE to travel to each other's country without a visa. It will be the first time a visa-free arrangement will apply between Israel and an Arab nation. This despite the decades-long alignment of Israel with Egypt and Jordan.
The two countries are initially planning up to 28 flights a week between Israel and the two main UAE aviation hubs, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Another major signing was for the establishment of a joint multi-billion dollar regional development fund to be known as the Abraham Fund, sponsored not only by the UAE and Israel, but in collaboration with the United States. Surprisingly it will be based in Jerusalem, a city which Israel claims complete sovereignty over, whereby Palestine has long designated East Jerusalem for its future capital.
The fund "is a manifestation of the new spirit of friendship and cooperation between the three countries, as well as their common will to advance the region," a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Israel on Tuesday said.
The disclosure about the fund was made by U.S. International Development Finance Corporation CEO Adam Boehler at Ben-Gurion Airport shortly after the delegation arrived from the emirates.
Boehler said the fund which is aimed at improving life in the Middle East and Africa, would initially launch a project known as "MedRed," which would enable Israeli pipeline company EPAC to transport oil from the UAE to Europe by a pipeline connected to the Red Sea from Eilat and to the Mediterranean at the Ashdod port. The second project, being the only one with a focus on the Palestinians, is a measure to modernize checkpoints for Palestinians in Israel and Jordan.
According to the `U.S .embassy statement the establishment of the fund fulfils a commitment made in the Abraham Accords. Through the fund, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, the UAE, and Israel will contribute more than $3 billion in private sector-led investment and development initiatives to promote regional economic cooperation and prosperity in the Middle East and beyond. The partners said they would welcome participation from other countries to advance these objectives.
The Abraham Fund will bolster regional trade, enable strategic infrastructure projects, and increase energy security through the provision of reliable access to electricity. The fund also aims to improve agricultural productivity and facilitate reliable and efficient access to clean water in the region.
"The Abraham Fund will tackle challenges facing the region and increase economic opportunity for everyone," Boehler,said. "We are excited to take this historic partnership to the next level to promote shared prosperity."
Ahmed Al Sayegh, the UAE Minister of State, added that the fund "reflects the desire of the three countries to put the wellbeing of people first, regardless of their creed or identity." He added that the UAE "is confident the initiative can be a source of economic and technological strength for the region, while simultaneously improving the lives of those who need the most support."
"The Abraham Fund we are launching today will be an essential tool in the realization of the vision of our leaders to enhance regional cooperation," Ronen Peretz, Director General of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said. "It will support the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs, it will produce the necessary menu of financial tools and it will provide the facilitation of our governments. The combination of business, finance, and government is essential in the creation of projects on the ground.
Prior to the delegation's plane tyaking off for Israel earlier Tuesday, Captain Naeem Alameri who piloted the Etihad-operated flight to Tel Aviv welcomed all on board, saying: "This is an historical movement for the UAE and Israel, and we are looking forward to salaam, salaam (peace) in the future."