US President Donald Trump yesterday presided over the signing ceremony of historic diplomatic deals between Israel and two Gulf Arab nations that could herald a dramatic shift in Middle East power dynamics and give him a boost ahead of the November election.
In a White House ceremony aimed at showcasing presidential statesmanship, Trump hosted more than 700 guests on the South Lawn to witness the sealing of the agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to sign agreements with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.
The deals would make them the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps to normalise ties since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
The agreements, which have drawn bitter condemnation from the Palestinians, mark an improbable diplomatic victory for Trump.
Feeling increasingly abandoned, Palestinian leaders urged demonstrations in the occupied territories and outside embassies of the United States, Israel, Bahrain and the UAE to protest what they called "shameful agreements."
Trump has spent his presidency forecasting deals on such intractable problems as North Korea's nuclear program only to find actual achievements elusive.
He is up for re-election on November 3 and the accords could help him shore up support among pro-Israel Christian evangelical voters, an important part of his political base.
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 has been critical of both deals.
"Instead of focusing on past conflicts, people are now focused on creating a vibrant future filled with endless possibilities," White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in a statement late on Monday.
Kushner helped negotiate the agreements and is trying to persuade more Gulf countries to strike similar accords with Israel.
One target of White House appeals is Oman, whose leader spoke with Trump last week.
Another is Saudi Arabia, the biggest Gulf Arab power. So far the Saudis, whose king is custodian of Islam's holiest sites and rules the world's largest oil exporter, have signaled they are not ready.
NETANYAHU UNDER PRESSURE
Although a diplomatic win for Netanyahu, the signing ceremony took place while he faces criticism at home of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and a corruption trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust that has led to frequent street protests.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and describes his trial as a leftist political witch-hunt aimed at unseating a popular right-wing leader.
Netanyahu signaled on Monday that Israel's deals with the two Gulf Arab states may still be works in progress.
The accords have left the Palestinians feeling abandoned by some of their closest traditional Arab allies, reports Reuters.
The Palestinian leadership, which has long accused Trump of pro-Israel bias, has denounced the Arab rapprochement with Israel as a betrayal of their cause, even though Netanyahu agreed, in return for normalization with the UAE, to suspend a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians view the new agreements as weakening a longstanding pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.
Though negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians last broke down in 2014, some Gulf Arab states and several other Arab countries have long had quiet, informal contacts with Israel.