WASHINGTON: Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced on Thursday (Aug. 13) that they will normalize diplomatic ties and create a broad new relationship, a move that transforms the order of Middle East policy from the Palestinian question to the fight against Iran.
Under the agreement, which US President Donald Trump helped the broker, Israel agreed to suspend the planned annexation of territories in the occupied West Bank. It also strengthens opposition to regional power in Iran, which the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the United States see as the biggest threat in the conflict-ridden Middle East.
Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But the United Arab Emirates, along with most other Arab countries, did not recognize Israel and had no formal diplomatic or economic ties with it until now. It will be the first Arab floor in the country to reach such a settlement with the Jewish state.
Officials from the three countries called the agreement “historic” and a breakthrough for peace. But Palestinian leaders, apparently surprised, condemned it as a “knife in the back” to their cause.
In a joint statement, Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed “agreed to a complete normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates”.
The agreement will enable the two countries to “identify a new path that will unlock the great potential of the region”, it was said.
Israel and the United Arab Emirates are expected to exchange ambassadors and embassies soon. A signing ceremony will be held in the White House.
“As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend the declaration of sovereignty” over areas of the West Bank as planned in a US plan announced by Trump in January, it said.
The agreement, which will be called the Abraham agreement, also gives Trump a foreign policy achievement when he seeks re-election on November 3. Trump spoke at the White House Oval Office, saying similar deals are being discussed with other countries in the region.
Trump said the agreement unites “two of the United States’ closest and most capable partners in the region” and represents “an important step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East.”
READ: Trump gets diplomatic agreement with allies in the Middle East before the election
The United Arab Emirates said it would remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people, hoping to create an independent state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and that the agreement retained viability in a two-state solution to the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The deal could also be a personal boost for Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption and whose domestic popularity has plummeted over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a televised address, Netanyahu said the deal would lead to “full and formal peace” with the United Arab Emirates and expressed hope that other countries in the region would follow suit. It also meant joining a request from Trump to “temporarily wait” to implement his annexation pledge, Netanyahu said.
“It is an incredibly exciting moment, a historic moment for peace in the Middle East,” Netanyahu added.
However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the treaty. Spokesman Abu Rudeineh, who read from a statement outside Abbas’ headquarters in Ramallah in the West Bank, said it was “a storehouse against Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa (the mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine) and the Palestinian cause”.
Asked if the Palestinian leadership had been aware of the deal, veteran negotiator Hanan Ashrawi told Reuters: “No. We were blinded … It’s a complete sale.”
In Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the armed Islamist group Hamas, said: “Normalization is a stabbing behind the Palestinian cause and it only serves the Israeli occupation.”
United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said the agreement would stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories, as Israel had been waiting for a green light from Washington.
Senior UAE official Anwar Gargash said the deal had helped dispel what he called a ticking time bomb. Gargash called on the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
“NIGHTMARE” FOR IRAN
Trump’s special envoy Brian Hook called the deal a “nightmare” for Iran. An Iranian official said the agreement would not ensure peace in the region.
Rosse against “criminal Israel”, said Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a special adviser to Iran’s parliamentary speakers, in a tweet: “Abu Dhabi’s behavior has no justice, returns to the Palestinian cause. W / the strategic mistake, #UAE will be engulfed in the fire of Zionism. “
Iran and Israel are arch-enemies. Israel is particularly concerned about suspected Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies. Iran is also involved in proxy wars from Syria to Yemen, where the United Arab Emirates has been a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition that opposes Iran-adapted forces there.
With a population of less than 10 million but the Arab world’s second largest economy thanks to oil, the United Arab Emirates has waged a growing commercial and military war in the Gulf and the wider region over the past two decades, much of it aimed at confronting Islamist militants and the influence of Iran.
Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign agreements on investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications and other issues, the joint statement said.
“Everyone said this would be impossible,” Trump said.
“Now that the ice has broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries to follow the United Arab Emirates,” Trump added.
This was already being discussed with other states, he said.