We were here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East, Trump said, addressing a crowd in the South East by a podium placed on the balcony above. Thanks to the courage of the leaders present, we are taking a major step towards a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds can live together in peace and prosperity.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the ceremony, but the UAE and Bahrain chose to send their foreign ministers rather than heads of state or government. This, along with precautions against the spread of the coronavirus, denied Trump the opportunity to completely recreate the historic groups of hands that were the cornerstone of past White House peace ceremonies.
However, the agreement is historic in itself. The last Arab state to make peace with Israel was Jordan, in 1994. Egypt was the first, in 1979. The agreement is also important for bringing the Palestinians to the brink. Palestinian leaders have rejected Trump’s peace efforts for three years and have called the two Arab nations traitors to their cause.
Neither the UAE nor Bahrain are at war with Israel, so the document is not a peace treaty in the official sense. But so far, both Gulf states have officially considered Israel illegal.
The Arab states in the Persian Gulf have been closer to Israel over the past decade, largely in response to a shared desire to stifle Iranian influence in the region.
On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his desire to reach an agreement with Iran on his nuclear program after earlier in his administration he destroyed an agreement reached by Tehran with the Obama administration to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Trump and administration officials claim the deal did not do enough to prevent Iran from building a weapon or limiting its aggressive behavior in the region.
“I really believe that Iran wants to make a deal,” Trump said during a meeting in the Oval Office with Netanyahu ahead of the signing ceremony. I want Iran to be a great country.
Trump separately welcomed the foreign ministers and Netanyahu to the Oval Office meetings, both of which were opened to reporters. UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed told Trump that the agreement offers a chance for more cooperation in the region, and more between the United States and the UAE.
Netanyahu, a frequent visitor to the White House, smiled as Trump presented him with a ceremonial gold key, which Trump called a key to the White House.
You have the key to the heart of the Jewish people, Netanyahu replied.
Trump predicted that five more countries could soon agree and recognize Israel. He declined to name names.
A Trump administration official, informing reporters Monday, declined to say what the signed documents would say, adding that the texts would not be available until after the White House ceremony.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity according to rules set by the White House, though the official himself said he did not see why this was necessary.
The White House sent out hundreds of invitations, and many more guests attended than officially allowed under the District of Columbia Coronavirus protocols. As with the political events in the White House during the Republican National Convention last month, the Trump administration does not consider itself bound by those rules.
Israel has seen coronavirus cases rise in late summer, and the Netanyahu pandemic management prompted protesters to cheer Your time is running out! outside his home last month. It was some of the harshest criticism he has faced in more than a decade in office.
Visitors to the White House ceremony were encouraged to wear masks, but they were not required to, the senior administration official said.
It will be in South Lawn, which is definitely a fairly large area, the official said.
Some of the guests who attended the event did not have masks and the seats were placed next to each other instead of being shared separately.
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this story.
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