The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements on Tuesday to establish formal relations with Israel. They are the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to break a long-standing taboo to strategically align the countries of the Middle East against Iran.
US President Donald Trump hosted the White House ceremony and crowned a dramatic month in which first the United Arab Emirates and then Bahrain agreed to undo decades of ill will without resolving Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians.
In front of several hundred people on the White House lawn, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed agreements with the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and the Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.
The agreements denounced by the Palestinians make them the third and fourth Arab states to take steps to normalize relations since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994.
Trump met Netanyahu earlier in the Oval Office and said, “We’re going to have at least five or six countries coming very quickly” to forge their own deals with Israel.
Trump later told reporters that a third Gulf Arab state, Saudi Arabia, would sign an agreement with Israel “at the right time”. The Saudi cabinet issued a statement stressing the need for a “just and comprehensive solution” to the Palestinian question.
Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab Gulf power. Its king is administrator of the holiest places of Islam and rules the largest oil exporter in the world. Despite its own reluctance, the kingdom’s silent approval of the agreements was considered crucial.
“Change the course of history”
The ceremony provided valuable imagery for Trump as he tried to stay in power in a November 3 presidential election. Flags of the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain abounded.
“We are here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from the balcony of the White House.
Trump called the deals “a big step in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity” and stated that the three Middle Eastern countries “will work together, they are friends”.
The successive agreements mark an unlikely diplomatic victory for Trump. He’s spent his presidency forecasting deals for problems as unsolvable as the North Korean nuclear program, only to achieve elusive gains.
Bringing Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain together reflects their shared concern over Iran’s increasing influence in the region and ballistic missile development. Iran criticized both deals.
All three Middle Eastern leaders welcomed the agreements and Trump’s role in glowing words. Netanyahu said this gave hope to “all of Abraham’s people”.
But UAE and Bahraini officials both tried to reassure the Palestinians that their countries would not abandon them or their pursuit of statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite the Palestinian leadership condemning the affairs as betrayal of their cause.
In a sign that the regional dispute will surely continue while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved, Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza into Israel during the ceremony, the Israeli military said.
Israeli ambulance service Magen David Adom said paramedics treated two men for minor injuries from flying glass in Ashdod, and four others were in shock.
“This is not peace, this is a surrender in return for continuing the aggression,” read a tweet posted on the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Twitter account.
Trump’s evangelical support
With Trump aiming for another four years, the deals could help boost support from pro-Israel Christian Evangelical voters, an important part of his political base.
In addition to Saudi Arabia, another target of the White House’s plans is Oman, whose leader spoke to Trump last week. Oman sent its ambassador to the ceremony on Tuesday, a senior US official said. No Saudi representative was present.
Trump met with the Emirates Foreign Minister prior to the ceremony and thanked the United Arab Emirates for being the first in the Gulf to reach an agreement on normalizing relations with Israel. He left little doubt that the Iran issue was hanging over the event.
Trump predicted that Iran, under severe US sanctions, would like to reach an agreement with Washington that has tried to renegotiate an international nuclear deal. Tehran shows no signs of movement.
Israel’s pact with the United Arab Emirates, entitled “Peace Treaty, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization”, was more detailed and went further than the Bahraini document, which declared peace between countries that have never waged war against one another.
Israel’s deal with Bahrain called for “full diplomatic relations” but avoided the term normalization.
Both documents mentioned the need for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but neither explicitly mentioned a two-state solution.
Alluding to the coronavirus, the White House encouraged attendees to wear masks, but did not ask them to. It was left to the leaders to shake hands, and they did not do so in public. Most of the people in the crowd weren’t wearing masks.
Some differences persist despite warming ties. Trump said Tuesday he would have no problem selling advanced stealth F-35 fighter jets to the UAE that have been trying to get them for years. Israel, which has the F-35, is refusing such a sale.
The White House is frustrated by the Palestinians’ refusal to participate in Trump’s Middle East peace initiative and has tried to bypass it in hopes that they will see the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain as an incentive or even a lever for peace talks become.
Speaking to Fox News hours before the ceremony, Trump predicted that at some point the Palestinians would make peace with Israel or be “left out in the cold.”
The Palestinian leadership has long accused Trump of pro-Israel bias and denounced the Arab rapprochement with Israel, even though Netanyahu agreed to suspend a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in return for normalization with the UAE.
Although the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations failed in 2014, some Gulf Arab states and several other Arab countries have long had quiet, informal contacts with Israel.
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)