UAE and Bahrain sign diplomatic deals with Israel at White House

Washington

Israel on Tuesday signed historic diplomatic pacts with two Gulf Arab states at a White House ceremony that President Donald Trump declared will mark the “dawn of a new Middle East,” casting himself as an international peacemaker at the height of his reelection campaign.

The bilateral agreements formalize the normalization of Israel’s already thawing relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in line with their common opposition to Iran. But the agreements do not address the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, who view the pacts as a stab in the back from their fellow Arabs and a betrayal of their cause for a Palestinian state.

Hundreds of people massed on the sun-washed South Lawn to witness the signing of agreements in a festive atmosphere little marked by the coronavirus pandemic. Attendees did not practice social distancing and most guests didn’t wear masks.

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Mr. Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the day “is a pivot of history. It heralds a new dawn of peace.”

Neither Mr. Netanyahu nor Mr. Trump mentioned the Palestinians in their remarks, but both the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers spoke of the importance of creating a Palestinian state.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, even thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “halting the annexation” of West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians in exchange for Emirati recognition. Mr. Netanyahu, however, has insisted that Israel has only suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements.

“Today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East – a change that will send hope around the world,” Mr. Al Nahyan said.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said Bahrain would stand with the Palestinians. “Today is a truly historic occasion,” he said. “A moment for hope and opportunity.”

But in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israel, apparently meant to coincide with the ceremony. The Israeli military said the rockets were fired from Gaza and one was intercepted by air defenses. Earlier in the day, Palestinian activists held small demonstrations in the West Bank and in Gaza, where they trampled and set fire to pictures of Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu, and the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain.

Israel and the United States hope the agreements can usher in a major shift in the region should other Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, follow suit. That could have implications for Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. Until now, Israel has had peace deals only with Egypt and Jordan.

Other Arab countries believed to be close to recognizing Israel include Oman, Sudan, and Morocco.

“We are very down the road with about five different countries,” Mr. Trump told reporters before the ceremony.

Many longtime Mideast analysts and former officials, among

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A White House Ceremony Will Celebrate a Diplomatic Win and Campaign Gift

Analysts have also predicted for months that Mr. Netanyahu would make an appearance at Mr. Trump’s side during the closing weeks of the U.S. election campaign, both as a personal repayment to Mr. Trump for years of political support and to help ensure that his presidency and policies continue.

Mr. Trump has, after all, been very good to Mr. Netanyahu during a period when the Israeli leader has fought for his political survival. Just two weeks before Mr. Netanyahu faced a tight election vote early last year, for instance, Mr. Trump recognized Israel’s authority over the long-disputed Golan Heights. With Mr. Netanyahu facing another popular vote earlier this year, along with a fresh criminal indictment, Mr. Trump hosted him at the White House to unveil a peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians that heavily favored Israeli interests.

Again managing multiple crises at home, Mr. Netanyahu will welcome a splashy event at the White House. He left for the airport Sunday night right after imposing a three-week national lockdown that will go into effect on Friday, just before the Jewish New Year and High Holy Days, a response to soaring morbidity rates that his zigzagging policy changes, repeatedly abandoned for political reasons, have failed to contain.

Demonstrations against Mr. Netanyahu have clogged the streets outside his residence in Jerusalem every weekend for months. And on Sunday, anti-corruption protesters filled the highway outside Ben-Gurion International Airport as he departed for the 48-hour excursion, with some holding signs demanding that it be a one-way trip.

The United Arab Emirates shares Mr. Netanyahu’s gratitude toward Mr. Trump. Like the Israeli leader, Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the Emirates, appreciates the American president’s hard line on Iran, withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and support for its close ally Saudi Arabia.

“I think the U.A.E.’s calculus was very much, this is a favor we’re doing to the Trump administration,” said Robert Malley, a former National Security Council official who oversaw Middle East affairs in the Obama White House. Mr. Malley said the Emirates’ mentality toward the Trump administration amounted to, “We owe them.”

He added that the Emirates, like Israel, are mindful that, if elected president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. would most likely follow policies less aligned with their own. Mr. Biden is expected to re-engage with Iran diplomatically, and his Democratic Party is heavy with influential critics of both Israel and the Gulf Arab monarchies.

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