WORLD Israel, UAE agree to visa-free travel as ties deepen in new sunshine era

WORLD

Israel, UAE agree to visa-free travel as ties deepen in new sunshine era

AFP

16:58, October 21, 2020

Screens display the flight number of the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE at the Ben Gurion Airport, Israel on Monday. The flight would carry a US-Israeli delegation to the UAE following a normalization accord, which makes the UAE only the third Arab country to forge ties with Israel in over 70 years. (Photo: AFP)

Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to visa-free travel on Monday, an unprecedented arrangement between Israel and an Arab state, signed as the first ever official UAE delegation landed in Tel Aviv.

The visit, hailed as a "glorious day for peace" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came after Israel and the UAE agreed to normalize ties in a deal inked at the White House in September.

With their economies hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the normalization deal - which broke years of Arab consensus that there should be no relations with the Jewish state until it makes peace with the Palestinians.

The UAE became the third Arab state to establish ties with Israel, followed shortly by Bahrain.

While Israel has peace deals with neighboring Egypt and Jordan, it requires citizens of both countries to obtain visas before entry.

Shortly after greeting the UAE delegation at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, a mask-wearing Netanyahu vowed that visa-free travel will "offer a huge boost for business [and] tourism."

Israel and the UAE also signed accords on investment protection, and science and technology, and a civil aviation deal authorizing 28 flights a week between the two countries.

"Today, we are making history in a way that will stand for generations," Netanyahu said at the opening of the one-day meeting.

The UAE and Bahrain have faced criticism from within the Arab and Muslim world over their decision to forge ties with Israel.

The head of the Emirati delegation to the Tel Aviv meeting, UAE's Minister of State for Financial Affairs Obaid bin Humaid Al-Tayer, said the UAE was committed to being a "regional leader in terms of economic reform... international trade, political stability and peacemaking."

In return for formal ties with the UAE, Israel agreed to freeze plans to annex Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank, although Netanyahu has said that annexation remains on the table.

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