Breaking Longtime Taboo, UAE and Bahrain to Sign Deals With Israel at White House

US President Donald Trump welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Al Drago.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Tuesday will become the latest Arab states to break a longstanding taboo when they sign agreements to normalize relations with Israel in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran.

US President Donald Trump was due to host the White House ceremony around noon, capping a dramatic month when first the UAE and then Bahrain agreed to reverse decades of ill will without a resolution of Israel’s decades-old dispute with the Palestinians.

At the US-brokered event, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will sign agreements with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.

The deals make them the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps to normalize ties since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Tuesday that his country’s decision to normalize relations with Israel had “broken the psychological barrier” and was “the way forward” for the region, creating more leverage.

The back-to-back agreements, which have drawn bitter condemnation from the Palestinians, mark an improbable diplomatic victory for Trump. He has spent his presidency forecasting deals on such intractable problems as North Korea’s nuclear program only to find actual achievements elusive.

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.

With Trump up for reelection on Nov. 3, the accords could help shore up support among pro-Israel Christian evangelical voters, an important part of his political base.

Speaking to Fox News hours before the ceremony, Trump said he expected more Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel and predicted the Palestinians would eventually join as well or else be “left out in the cold.”

One target of White House appeals 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.

Another target is Oman, whose leader spoke with Trump last week. Oman was expected to send its ambassador to Tuesday’s ceremony, a senior US official said. There was no word on whether the Saudis would attend, though their quiet acquiescence to the agreements has been seen as crucial.

Bahrain’s Zayani was first to arrive. A smiling Trump greeted him as he stepped out of his limousine.

Meeting the Emirati foreign minister before the ceremony, Trump thanked the UAE for being first in the Gulf to agree to ties with Israel and left little doubt the Iran issue was overhanging the event.

Trump predicted that Iran, under heavy US sanctions, would want to reach a deal with Washington, which has been trying to get it to renegotiate an international nuclear deal. Tehran has shown no sign of budging.

NETANYAHU UNDER PRESSURE

“An exciting and a historic day for Israel! On the way to make peace for peace, peace through strength,” Netanyahu tweeted. He signed off with emojis of US, Israeli, Bahraini and UAE flags.

Although a diplomatic win for Netanyahu, the ceremony takes 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.

A senior Trump administration official said that the documents were complete or nearly finished, that Israel would sign separate agreements with each of the Gulf states, and that then the United States would join all three in signing a common document known as the Abraham Accords.

The official declined to provide specifics.

In a nod to the coronavirus that has hit the United States and the world, the White House is encouraging but not requiring the participants to wear masks. Though the mood of the ceremony is expected to be warm, it will be up to the leaders whether they want to shake hands, the official told reporters.

Some differences remain despite warming ties. Trump said on Tuesday he would have no problem selling advanced stealth F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which for years has sought to obtain them. But Israel, which has the F-35, has made clear it still objects to such a sale.

Frustrated by the Palestinians’ refusal to take part in Trump’s Middle East peace initiative, the White House has sought to bypass them in hopes they will see the deals with the UAE and Bahrain as incentives, even leverage, for peace talks.

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 disputed 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.

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Author: Reuters and Algemeiner Staff


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