TEL AVIV—Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to allow their citizens reciprocal visa-free travel as direct flights begin, the first such arrangement between Israel and an Arab state aimed at bolstering business and tourism ties.
“We are exempting our nationals from visas and this will offer a huge boost to business, tourism and people to people contacts,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a signing ceremony at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Tuesday. “The mutual trade and exchange of goods, services, technology and knowledge will benefit immeasurably not only our two countries but the Middle East as a whole,” he said.
Besides the visa waiver, the two countries signed a slew of other agreements that included aviation, science and technology and investment protection. Along with the U.S., they also launched a fund that aims to raise $3 billion in private investment for development and other projects in the Middle East.
The deals are early fruits of a U.S.-brokered peace agreement signed in September between Israel and the U.A.E. in a dramatic shift that aligned old enemies to counter a common foe: Iran. Bahrain also established diplomatic ties with Israel last month and Sudan is expected to do the same in the coming days after Washington removes it from its list of state sponsors of terror.
More on the Israel-U.A.E. Deal
The agreements were signed during the first high-level visit of an Emirati delegation to Israel that was headed by U.A.E. minister of state for financial affairs Obaid Al Tayer. An American delegation, headed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, also participated.
It comes after both the Israeli and Emirati governments ratified the treaty they signed at the White House last month, putting the diplomatic deals into effect. On Sunday, Israeli and Bahraini officials signed a joint memorandum establishing diplomatic ties.
Israel now has diplomatic relations with four Arab countries, Egypt, Jordan, the U.A.E. and Bahrain, though the U.A.E. is the only one that enjoys visa exemptions. Israel and the U.S. don’t have such an agreement, highlighting the significance of the move.
The move is significant for the U.A.E. as well as it doesn’t allow citizens from close Arab allies Egypt and Jordan to enter without a visa.
Under the aviation deal, there will be 28 passenger flights between the U.A.E. and Israel as well as 10 weekly cargo flights.
Flights are expected to begin in the coming weeks, according to officials with Israel’s transportation ministry, but they didn’t provide a date.
The direct air connection will help to boost both sides’ trade agenda, with officials predicting hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and tourism opportunities.
The $3 billion Abraham Fund, also announced Tuesday, will be based in Jerusalem and will initially aim to mobilize private funds for development projects and others that connect Israel and the region, including infrastructure, water and energy projects.
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com
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