Jerusalem (AFP) – UAE carrier Etihad Airways sent its second flight to Israel in less than a month Tuesday, carrying medical aid to help the Palestinians tackle the coronavirus pandemic, witnesses and officials said.
Jordan and Egypt aside, Arab countries have no official diplomatic ties with Israel, but Gulf Arab nations have had ever more publicly warm ties with Israel of late, partly over shared rivalry with Iran.
In mid-May, the United Arab Emirates flew its first publicly announced flight to Israel, also an Etihad flight carrying coronavirus aid for the Palestinians.
But Tuesday’s aircraft bore for the first time the logo of the Arab carrier, a source with knowledge of the flight told AFP.
It is “the first time that a plane carrying Etihad’s marking is landing in Israel”, the source said.
Israel’s foreign affairs ministry confirmed that Tuesday’s flight was the second one to Israel from the UAE.
“It is the second direct flight from the UAE and it has medical aid for the Palestinians,” the ministry said.
The aid “will be given to the UN to distribute,” it said.
Palestinian premier Mohammed Shtayyeh said the Palestinians had not been informed about the flight.
“The Emirati plane took us by surprise, we didn’t know about it,” he told foreign journalists at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
He voiced appreciation for the aid, but said the delivery should have been coordinated.
“When China decides to help us, they coordinate with us, when any country in the world is extending its assistance, they tell us,” he told foreign journalists in Ramallah.
In another sign of warming ties between Israel and Gulf Arab nations, the Jewish state Tuesday congratulated the UAE on its bid to launch the first Arab space probe.
That and the latest flight came as Israel prepares to potentially move forward in July with annexing its West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.
A peace plan announced by US President Donald Trump in January gave the green light for such annexations as well as creating a reduced Palestinian state, crucially lacking a capital in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have rejected the proposals and Shtayyeh said Tuesday the Palestinians had submitted a counter-proposal to the Quartet mediating in the conflict, namely the United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union.
Analysts say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes Arab states normalising with Israel will push the Palestinians to reach a peace deal, not the other way around.