US-Brokered Historic Deals: UAE, Bahrain forge ties with Israel | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 17, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:01 AM, September 17, 2020

US-Brokered Historic Deals: UAE, Bahrain forge ties with Israel

Palestinians protest; Israeli jets bomb Gaza after rocket fire

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements on Tuesday to establish formal ties with Israel, becoming the first Arab states in a quarter century to break a longstanding taboo, in a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.

US President Donald Trump hosted the White House ceremony, capping a dramatic month when first the UAE and then Bahrain agreed to reverse decades of ill will without a resolution of Israel's dispute with the Palestinians.

In front of a crowd of several hundred people on the White House lawn, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed accords with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.

The deals, denounced by the Palestinians, make them the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps toward normalizing relations since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said only an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories can bring peace to the Middle East.

"Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends," he said in a statement after the signing of the deals, condemned by the Palestinians as a "betrayal" of their cause.

A fresh round of violence erupted between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel, after the ceremony in Washington. Israel bombed Gaza after militants fired rockets through Tuesday night, overshadowing the signing of the deals.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the militants of seeking to stop the peace deals, Israel's first with an Arab country since 1994.

But Gaza ruler Hamas warned Israel it faced an escalation if the bombing continued, barely two weeks after a renewed Egyptian-brokered truce halted near-nightly exchanges across the border through August.

LANDMARK DEALS

Meeting Netanyahu in the Oval Office, Trump said, "We'll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly" to forge their own accords with Israel.

Later Trump told reporters a third Gulf Arab state, Saudi Arabia, would strike an agreement with Israel "at the right time." The Saudi cabinet stressed in a statement the need for a "just and comprehensive solution" to the Palestinian issue.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest Gulf Arab power. Its king is custodian of Islam's holiest sites and rules the world's largest oil exporter. Despite its own reluctance, the kingdom's quiet acquiescence to the agreements was seen as crucial.

The ceremony provided Trump with valuable imagery as he tries to hold on to power in a November 3 presidential election. Flags of the United States, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain were in abundance.

"We're here this afternoon to change the course of history," Trump said from the White House balcony.

Trump called the deals "a major stride in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity" and declared that the three Middle East countries "are going to work together, they are friends."

The back-to-back agreements mark an improbable diplomatic victory for Trump. He has spent his presidency forecasting deals on such intractable problems as North Korea's nuclear program only to find achievements elusive.

Bringing Israel, the UAE and Bahrain together reflects their shared concern about Iran's rising influence in the region and development of ballistic missiles. Iran criticized both deals.

All three of the Middle East leaders hailed the agreements and Trump's role in glowing terms, with Netanyahu saying it gave hope to "all the people of Abraham."

But the UAE and Bahraini officials both sought to reassure the Palestinians that their countries were not abandoning them or their quest for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

TRUMP'S EVANGELICAL SUPPORT

With Trump seeking four more years, the accords could help shore up support among pro-Israel Christian evangelical voters, an important part of his political base.

Another target of the White House plans, in addition to Saudi Arabia, is Oman, whose leader spoke with Trump last week. Oman sent its ambassador to Tuesday's ceremony, a senior US official said. No Saudi representative attended.

Meeting the Emirati foreign minister before the ceremony, Trump thanked the UAE for being first in the Gulf to agree on normalising ties with Israel and left little doubt the Iran issue was overhanging the event.

Trump predicted that Iran, under heavy US sanctions, would want to reach a deal with Washington, which has been trying to get it to renegotiate an international nuclear accord. Tehran shows no sign of budging.

Israel's pact with the UAE, titled "Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations, and Full Normalization," was more detailed and went further than the Bahraini document, declaring peace between countries that never fought a war against each other.

Israel's agreement with Bahrain called for "full diplomatic relations" but avoided the term normalization.

Both documents cited the need to justly resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but neither specifically mentioned a two-state solution.

The Palestinian leadership has long accused Trump of pro-Israel bias and denounced the Arab rapprochement with Israel, even though Netanyahu agreed, in return for normalization with the UAE, to suspend a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Although Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke down in 2014, some Gulf Arab states and several other Arab countries have long had quiet, informal contacts with Israel.

 

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