WASHINGTON- Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced an agreement on Thursday that will lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two states, a move that reshapes the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.
Under the accord, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker, Israel has agreed to suspend annexing areas of the occupied West Bank as it had been planning to do, White House officials said.
It also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the conflict-riven region.
Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, did not recognise Israel and had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it until now.
The agreement was the product of lengthy discussions between Israel, the UAE and the United States that accelerated recently, White House officials said.
A joint statement issued by the three nations said Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed had “agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates”.
“This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region,” the statement said.
In a separate statement, the crown prince stressed that the agreement would stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories, which Israel has said had been awaiting a green light from Washington.
The agreement, to be known as the Abraham Accords, also gives Trump a foreign policy accomplishment as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.
“HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The UAE said it would remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people and that the normalization agreement maintained the viability of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu said the agreement represented a “historic day” for his country.
But a senior Israeli official said applying Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank – territory Palestinians seek for a state along with Gaza and East Jerusalem – was still on the agenda.
The official said, “The Trump administration asked us to temporarily suspend the (sovereignty) announcement so that the historic peace agreement with the UAE can be implemented.”
Trump’s special envoy Brian Hook said the deal is a “nightmare” for Iran.
Iran and Israel are arch foes. 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 UAE has been a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition opposing Iran-aligned forces there.
Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications and other issues, the statement said.
The two countries are expected soon to exchange ambassadors and embassies.
The statement said that “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 declaring sovereignty” over areas of the West Bank that were envisioned in a U.S. plan announced by Trump in January.
In the White House Oval Office, Trump said similar deals are being discussed with other countries in the region. A signing ceremony including delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will be held at the White House in the coming weeks, Trump added.
“Everybody said this would be impossible,” Trump said. “After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations. They exchange embassies and ambassadors and begin cooperation across the border.”
The agreement envisions giving Muslims greater access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem by allowing them to fly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, White House officials said.
Trump said, “This deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East. Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead …. and normalize relations with Israel.”
“We are already discussing this with other nations, very powerful, very good nations that want to see peace in the Middle East so you will probably see others of these,” Trump added. “Things are happening that I can’t talk about, but they’re extremely positive.”
Palestinians Slam the Deal
Palestinians from across the political spectrum on Thursday strongly condemned the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE, dubbing it a betrayal of Arabs and Palestinians.
Many Palestinians and Arabs took to social media to express outrage over the agreement, with some calling it a ‘new nakba (catastrophe).” They also used a variety of pejoratives against the Gulf state and its leaders, including the “United Zionist Emirate” and “dogs” and “traitors.” Others referred to the announcement as a “black Thursday for Arabs and Palestinians.”
Palestinian officials said they did not have prior knowledge of the agreement.
“Israel has annexed the United Arab Emirates instead of annexing the West Bank,” a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying by The Jerusalem Post. “This is a very dangerous development that requires a response not only from the Palestinians, but the whole Arab world.”
The officials, who was not named, said that the agreement was in violation of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which states that the Arab countries would establish normal relations with Israel only “in the context of a comprehensive peace and a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967.”
Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that Israel “got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally and persistently since the beginning of the occupation.”
The UAE, she said, “has come out in the open on its secret dealings/normalization with Israel. Please don’t do us a favor. We are nobody’s fig leaf!”
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