A much-publicized trip to the United Arab Emirates by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday was canceled shortly before he was due to depart after Jordan stalled on authorizing his flight path over the kingdom.
Sources reported the planned visit on Wednesday, saying Netanyahu would meet Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Commentators deemed it as a chance for Netanyahu to flourish his diplomatic credentials ahead of Israel's March 23 election.
After hours of uncertainty, Netanyahu's office said it was forced to reschedule the Israeli leader's visit to the UAE, citing disagreements with the Jordanian government.
Netanyahu's office said in a statement that "because of difficulties in coordinating his flight in Jordanian airspace the visit was postponed" until further notice. It said the conflict stemmed from the cancellation of the Jordanian crown prince's visit to a contested shrine in Jerusalem on Wednesday "due to a disagreement over the security and protection arrangements at the site."
The Prime Minister's Office said the historic visit, the first by an Israeli prime minister since the establishment of bilateral relations last year, would be rescheduled with Emirati authorities.
Deputy Prime Minister and Jordan's Minister of Foreign Affairs responded by saying the steps that Israel has been taking recently are harmful to peace prospects.
"It will be difficult to achieve peace as long as there are illegal moves on the part of Israel. Action must be taken to reduce the activity that harms peace, such as building new settlements and harming holy sites in Jerusalem. These are all steps that distance peace," he said.
"The crown prince wanted to visit Jerusalem on the night of ascension of the Prophet Muhammad into heaven [an event of great importance to Muslims] but Israel changed the visit's plan in a way that would make it difficult for Jerusalem residents, so the crown prince decided to cancel his arrival so as not to make it difficult for Palestinians to come and pray."
Defense Minister Benny Gantz slammed Netanyahu on the incident Jordan, blaming the premier for damaging ties with the Hashemite kingdom.
“Jordan is Israel’s strategic partner. The defense and diplomatic ties we share are a cornerstone of our national security approach. I wish to state clearly that Israel is committed to the agreements we share with Jordan and has the highest regard for King Abdullah and the Jordanian government.
"Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s conduct in recent years has done significant damage to our relations with Jordan, causing Israel to lose considerable defensive, diplomatic and economic assets," Gantz said. "I will personally work alongside the entire Israeli defense establishment to continue strengthening our relationship with Jordan, as well as with Egypt — countries with whom we’ve had enduring peace accords for years — while also deepening ties with other countries in the region."
Jordan's ruling Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Al Aqsa compound, an icon of the Palestinian statehood struggle and the third holiest site in Islam. Israel, which made peace with Jordan in 1994, maintains security control around the site, which Jews revere as the vestige of their two ancient temples.
Jordan says Israel has no sovereign rights over the compound and has long chafed at organized visits there by religious Jews.
Sources involved in the planning initially said the trip was canceled due to illness suffered by Netanyahu's wife.
An official in the Prime Minister's Office said earlier that Sara Netanyahu felt unwell and was taken to Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center, where she will remain hospitalized for several days and undergo an operation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Neither Israel nor the UAE have formally confirmed that such a visit — the first by the prime minister to the Gulf power — was to have taken place, nor that it was being reviewed.
First published: 12:18, 03.11.21