Mr. Cohen has made several secret trips in the past year to the Emirates seeking to enhance cooperation, and the outbreak of the coronavirus created an additional opening. The Mossad took responsibility for procurement of medical equipment that Israel lacked, and shipments arrived on secret flights from the Emirates.
A team to set up a lab was on the first public direct flight to Israel from the Emirates, although a plan to publicly declare cooperation in the battle against the pandemic in June proved too much too soon, as the Emirati government distanced itself shortly after Mr. Netanyahu announced it.
The impetus for Thursday’s agreement, however, can be traced back to around the same time, when Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirates’ ambassador to the United States who has worked closely with the Trump administration, wrote an op-ed article in Israel’s popular Yediot Ahronot newspaper appealing directly to Israelis, in Hebrew, not to annex occupied territory.
“Annexation will definitely, and immediately, reverse all of the Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the United Arab Emirates,” Mr. al-Otaiba wrote at the time. The headline boiled it down to a clear trade-off: “It’s Either Annexation or Normalization.”
Mr. Kushner said that proved a turning point. “After that, we started a discussion with U.A.E. saying maybe this is something we can do,” he said. The Emiratis were open to the idea, he said, and so he then approached the Israelis, who likewise expressed a willingness to consider it. Talks then proceeded through Mr. Kushner and the Americans.
The negotiations were closely held in the White House, with only a limited number of officials aware. Meetings and Thursday’s phone call were either omitted from schedules or listed with obscure language, according to an administration official. Mr. Kushner said a preliminary agreement was reached a week ago and final details completed on Wednesday.
Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the agreement was “a win-win-win-lose” in that it provided diplomatic victories for the Emirates, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump. “The big losers are the Palestinians who have watched the Arab world move closer to Israel seemingly rewarding Netanyahu for ignoring the Palestinians and undermining Palestinians interests,” he said.