By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements on Tuesday to establish formal ties with Israel, becoming the first Arab states in a quarter century to break a longstanding taboo, in a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.
U.S. President Donald Trump hosted the White House ceremony, capping a dramatic month when first the UAE and then Bahrain agreed to reverse decades of ill will without a resolution of Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians.
In front of a crowd of several hundred people on the White House lawn, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed accords with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.
The deals, denounced by the Palestinians, make them the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps toward normalizing relations since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
Meeting Netanyahu earlier in the Oval Office, Trump said, “We’ll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly” to forge their own accords with Israel.
Later Trump told reporters a third Gulf Arab state, Saudi Arabia, would strike an agreement with Israel “at the right time.” The Saudi cabinet stressed in a statement the need for a “just and comprehensive solution” to the Palestinian issue.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest Gulf Arab power. Its king is custodian of Islam’s holiest sites and rules the world’s largest oil exporter. Despite its own reluctance, the kingdom’s quiet acquiescence to the agreements was seen as crucial.
‘CHANGE THE COURSE OF HISTORY’
The ceremony provided Trump with valuable imagery as he tries to hold on to power in a Nov. 3 presidential election. Flags of the United States, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain were in abundance.
“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from the White House balcony.
Trump called the deals “a major stride in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity” and declared that the three Middle East countries “are going to work together, they are friends.”
The back-to-back agreements 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 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 criticized both deals.
All three of the Middle East leaders hailed the agreements and Trump’s role in glowing terms, with Netanyahu saying it gave hope to “all the people of Abraham.”
But the UAE and Bahraini officials both sought to reassure the Palestinians that their countries were not abandoning them or their quest for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite the Palestinian leadership having decried the deals as a betrayal of their cause.
In a sign that regional strife is sure to continue while the Israeli-Palestinian