WASHINGTON – Declaring the dawn of a new Middle East, President Donald Trump on Tuesday presided over the signing of historic diplomatic pacts between Israel and two Arab Gulf countries which he hopes will lead to a new order in the Middle East and will call him a peacemaker worthy of his re-election campaign.
Hundreds of people gathered on the sunny South Lawn to witness the signing of agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The bilateral agreements formalize the normalization of Jewish states thawing out relations with the two Arab nations in accordance with their common opposition to Iran and its aggression in the region.
We were here this afternoon to turn the tide of history, Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.
The agreements do not deal with the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab countries support the Palestinians, the Trump administration has persuaded the two countries not to let this conflict prevent them from having normal relations with Israel.
Trump’s political supporters are looking for deals to bolster his reputation as a statesman just seven weeks before Election Day. So far, foreign policy has not had a major role in a campaign dominated by coronavirus, race issues and the economy. The pandemic was the backdrop to the White House ceremony, where there was no social distancing and most of the guests did not wear masks.
The agreements won’t end active wars, but supporters believe they could pave the way for a broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement after decades of enmity and only two previous peace accords. Skeptics, including many longtime Middle East analysts and former officials, expressed doubts about their impact and lamented that they were ignoring the Palestinians, who dismissed them like a stab in the back by other Arabs. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that Israel had only suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements.
Yet even the harshest critics have admitted that the agreements could usher in major change in the region if other Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, do the same, with implications for Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Other Arab countries suspected of being on the verge of recognizing Israel are Oman, Sudan and Morocco.
We’re very advanced with about five different countries, Trump told reporters ahead of the ceremony.
In addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, all three sign a document dubbed the Abrahamic Agreements named after the patriarch of the three great monotheistic religions of the world.
This day is a pivotal point in history, Netanyahu said. It announces a new dawn of peace.
Despite the many challenges and hardships we all face – despite all of this, let’s stop for a moment to appreciate this remarkable day.
The Palestinians did not buy into the American vision. Palestinian activists staged small protests in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday, where they stomped on and burned photos of Trump, Netanyahu and leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
A poll released on Tuesday found that 86% of Palestinians believe that the normalization agreement with the UAE only serves Israel’s interests and not theirs. The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Investigation Research, was conducted from September 9 to 12 and interviewed 1,270 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Even in Israel, where the agreements have been widely praised, there are concerns that they could result in US sales of sophisticated weapons to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which could disrupt Israel’s qualitative military advantage in the region.
They are very rich countries for the most part, some are extraordinarily rich, like the UAE, Trump told Fox & Friends in an interview before the ceremony. And they would love to buy fighter jets and I personally wouldn’t have a problem with that.
Meanwhile, a politically vulnerable Netanyahu faces questions over his participation in such an important event just days after announcing a new nationwide lockdown to tackle an increase in coronavirus cases that will impose severe restrictions to movements and rallies.
And while the UAE and Bahrain have a history of suppressing dissent and critical public opinion, there are indications the deals are not as popular or well received as in Israel. Neither country has sent its head of state or government to sign the agreements with Netanyahu.
Bahrain’s largest Shiite-dominated opposition group, Al-Wefaq, whose government ordered disbanded in 2016 amid a years-long crackdown on dissent, said normalization was widely rejected. Al-Wefaq said in a statement he joins other Bahrainis who reject the agreement to normalize ties with the Zionist entity, and criticized the government for crushing the public’s ability to express opinions for to obscure the extent of dissatisfaction with standardization.
The ceremony follows months of complex diplomacy led by Jared Kushner, Trumps’ son-in-law and senior adviser, and the president’s envoy for international negotiations, Avi Berkowitz. On August 13, the Israel-UAE deal was announced. This was followed by the first direct commercial flight between the countries and then the announcement on September 11 of the Bahrain-Israel deal.
Associated Press editors Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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