U.S. helps broker Israel, UAE mend of diplomatic ties

 arkansasonline.com  08/14/2020 09:16:56 

JERUSALEM -- Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that they are establishing full diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal that required Israel to halt its plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians.

The historic deal delivered a foreign policy victory to President Donald Trump as he seeks reelection and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about Iran have overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal amounts to "treason" and should be reversed.

The agreement makes the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full diplomatic ties with Israel. They announced it in a joint statement, saying deals between Israel and the UAE were expected in the coming weeks in such areas as tourism, direct flights and embassies.

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Trump called the deal "a truly historic moment."

"Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates," he told reporters in the Oval Office.

In a nationally televised news conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed Trump's remarks.

"Today we usher in a new era of peace between Israel and the Arab world," he said. "There is a good chance we will soon see more Arab countries joining this expanding circle of peace."

But Netanyahu said the annexation plan was on "temporary hold," appearing to contradict statements from Emirati officials who said it was off the table.

Emirati officials described the deal in pragmatic terms. Anwar Gargash, a top Emirati official, said they had dealt a "death blow" to an aggressive Israeli move and hoped to help reshape the region.

"Is it perfect? Nothing is perfect in a very difficult region," Gargash added. "But I think we used our political chips right."

Omar Ghobash, assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy, told The Associated Press: "I don't think anything was written in stone. We are opening a door. We are hoping the Israelis will see the benefits to this step."

"I would assume that this is political maneuvering within a very complex political society," he added.

THE IRAN FACTOR

Israel and the UAE do not share a border and have never fought a war. But the UAE, like most of the Arab world, long rejected diplomatic ties with Israel in the absence of a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state on lands captured by Israel in 1967.

That steadfast support for the Palestinians, however, has begun to weaken in recent years, in large part because of the shared enmity toward Iran and Iranian proxies in the region. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the day-to-day ruler of the UAE, also shares Israel's distrust of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas militant group.

Netanyahu has long boasted about fostering closer behind-the-scenes ties with Arab countries than publicly acknowledged. The UAE has made little secret of those budding ties, allowing Israeli businessmen to enter the country on foreign passports and welcoming Israeli officials and sporting figures. Next year, Israel will take part in the UAE's delayed Expo 2020, the world's fair being hosted by Dubai. A secret synagogue also draws practicing Jews in Dubai.

Still, the timing of the deal was unexpected.

For Trump, it's a boost during an election year in which he has faced criticism for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. It was also an achievement for his Mideast team, led by adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose Mideast plan has made little headway since it was unveiled early this year.

U.S.-Israeli author Joel Rosenberg, who met with the crown prince in 2018 alongside fellow evangelical Christians, said the announcement could influence religious voters who may "struggle to decide" between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Thursday's agreement offers "a feel that this is historic" and a change for Trump to "have a series of big moments in the months ahead."

PRAISE FROM BIDEN

In a statement, Biden praised Israel for freezing the annexation plan.

"The United Arab Emirates and Israel have pointed a path toward a more peaceful, stable Middle East," he said, adding that a Biden presidency "will seek to build on this progress."

Netanyahu chalked up a diplomatic victory at a time when his coalition government has been plagued by infighting and faces the possibility of early elections. He also faces a corruption trial over charges stemming from a series of scandals. He denies those charges.

But even his rivals praised the deal.

Netanyahu has seen his popularity plummet as the country grapples with a renewed coronavirus outbreak, street protests and skyrocketing unemployment as the result of earlier lockdown measures.

For the UAE, home to skyscraper-studded Dubai and the rolling, oil-rich sand dunes of Abu Dhabi, it further burnishes its international campaign to be seen as a beacon of tolerance in the Middle East despite being governed by autocratic rulers. It also removes the stigma of recognizing Israel and could open the door for neighboring countries to follow suit.

The Gulf state of Bahrain welcomed the deal.

All in all, Netanyahu paid a relatively minor price. Although the hoped-for annexation plan is on hold, a half-century status quo remains in place in which Israel maintains its occupation of the West Bank and continues to expand its scores of settlements while Palestinians live in small autonomous enclaves. Those settlements are now home to some 500,000 Israelis.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as the heartland of a future state. The Trump Mideast plan envisions granting Israel permanent control over 30% of that territory, while offering the Palestinians limited autonomy in the remainder. After embracing the plan, Netanyahu backed away from moving forward with annexation last month in the face of international opposition and misgivings by White House officials.

The Palestinians have rejected Trump's Mideast plan out of hand.

PALESTINIAN REACTION

Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, convened a meeting of his top leadership Thursday night, and afterward his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the agreement amounted to "treason." He added that the UAE must reverse the decision and urged other Arab countries not to follow suit "at the expense of Palestinian rights."

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE was being recalled.

In Gaza, Hamas called the deal a "stabbing in the back of our people."

Moving to head off the Palestinian criticism, UAE officials said the deal had prevented the annexation and kept hopes alive for Palestinian statehood.

"The UAE is using its gravitas and promise of a relationship to unscrew a time bomb that is threatening a two-state solution," Gargash said.

Israeli hard-liners accused Netanyahu of missing an opportunity to annex parts of the biblical land of Israel. Naftali Bennett, a pro-settler lawmaker, welcomed the agreement but said it was "tragic that Netanyahu did not seize the moment."

Netanyahu insisted there was "no change" to his annexation plans. He said Israel would "wait temporarily" at the request of Trump.

Still, Netanyahu may be hedging his bets ahead of a possible change in the White House. Biden has made clear that he would oppose any annexation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, traveling in Europe, spoke to reporters.

A White House signing ceremony would take place eventually, Pompeo said. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton held such ceremonies when Israel normalized relations with Egypt and Jordan.

"We hope this provides a good foundation for building out on the vision for peace that the president has laid out," Pompeo said.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, tweeted shortly after Trump's announcement. He praised bin Zayed, who is often known by his initials.

"A great day for peace! Israel commends the courage of MBZ for the historic decision of the UAE to join Egypt [1979] and Jordan [1994] in making peace with Israel. Israel deeply appreciates all POTUS Trump has done to make this breakthrough possible," Dermer wrote.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi issued a statement congratulating Netanyahu and welcoming the announcement.

"The news of normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates is important and opens the door to future agreements," Ashkenazi said.

Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said the deal would solidify Netanyahu's legacy among Israel's greatest leaders.

"There's Rabin with Jordan, Begin with Egypt," he said, referring to the prime ministers who reached Israel's other peace deals. "Now there's Benjamin Netanyahu. He's going to be in the history books."

Information for this article was contributed by Josef Federman, Matthew Lee, Jon Gambrell, Tia Goldenberg, Elana Schor, Aamer Madhani and Aya Batrawy of The Associated Press; and by Anne Gearan and Steve Hendrix of The Washington Post.

In a nationally televised news conference Thursday in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the annexation plan was on temporary hold, appearing to contradict statements from United Arab Emirates officials who said it was off the table. (AP/Abir Sultan)

In a nationally televised news conference Thursday in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the annexation plan was on temporary hold, appearing to contradict statements from United Arab Emirates officials who said it was off the table. (AP/Abir Sultan)

President Donald Trump, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, second from right, and others applaud in the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, second from right, and others applaud in the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office at the White House, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office at the White House, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, Avraham Berkowitz, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, speaks in the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, Avraham Berkowitz, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, speaks in the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel as the countries announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. In a nationally broadcast statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "full and official peace" with the UAE would lead to cooperation in many spheres between the countries and a "wonderful future" for citizens of both countries. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel as the countries announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. In a nationally broadcast statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "full and official peace" with the UAE would lead to cooperation in many spheres between the countries and a "wonderful future" for citizens of both countries. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at a press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, after President Donald Trump announced that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at a press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, after President Donald Trump announced that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office at the White House, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is at right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office at the White House, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is at right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump sits in front of documents in the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump sits in front of documents in the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel as the countries announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. In a nationally broadcast statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "full and official peace" with the UAE would lead to cooperation in many spheres between the countries and a "wonderful future" for citizens of both countries. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel as the countries announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. In a nationally broadcast statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "full and official peace" with the UAE would lead to cooperation in many spheres between the countries and a "wonderful future" for citizens of both countries. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

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