Netanyahu shelves UAE trip following spat with Jordan
AFP, Thursday 11 Mar 2021

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a historic visit to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, citing a disagreement with Jordan over crossing its airspace.

Israel normalised ties with the UAE last year and has been bound by a peace treaty with Jordan since 1994.

"His visit was postponed due to difficulties in coordinating his flight in Jordanian airspace," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

The statement said that the overflight row stemmed from the cancellation by Israel of a planned visit on Wednesday by Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein to the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Al-Aqsa mosque compound is Islam's third holiest site and Jordan is the custodian of the compound, known by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and as the Temple Mount by Jews.

The prince's visit was called off following "a dispute over security and safety arrangements at the site," the Israeli statement added.

Netanyahu later said he had spoken with UAE's leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

"We agreed that we would meet very soon, ... and that the UAE would invest $10 billion in investments in Israel," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu told reporters that the UAE trip "was not possible due a misunderstanding" with Jordan.

Jordan has subsequently cleared Netanyahu's plane for travel, according to the premier's office.

Elections looming

Commenting on the fracas surrounding the Al-Aqsa visit at a news conference in Paris, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: "We had agreed with Israel on the arrangements for the visit.

"But we were surprised at the last moment that Israel wanted to impose new arrangements."

The new arrangements Israel sought were "rejected," Safadi told reporters, without commenting on the air space issue.

Israel and the UAE established ties last year in a diplomatic coup for Netanyahu brokered by his staunch ally, the then US president Donald Trump.

The deal made UAE only the third Arab state to establish relations with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan subsequently reached similar US-brokered agreements with Israel.

Netanyahu, in power since 2009, has sought to burnish his credentials as Israel's leading statesman as part of his re-election pitch ahead of March 23 polls, and a UAE visit could have aided that effort.

Israeli media had earlier reported that Netanyahu's Abu Dhabi trip faced delays due to his wife Sarah being hospitalised with appendicitis.

Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem confirmed to AFP that it had admitted Sarah Netanyahu, without providing further details.

However, Netanyahu on Thursday met for talks in Jerusalem with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the vaccination effort against Covid-19.

The trio announced they would cooperate in research and production of coronavirus vaccines, while the Czech Republic boosted ties by opening a diplomatic office in Jerusalem.

Like most other countries, the Czech Republic has its embassy in Tel Aviv, pending a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.