Is­rael signs his­toric pacts with 2 Arab states at White House

Miami Herald - - Front Page - BY DEB RIECHMANN, MATTHEW LEE AND JONATHAN LEMIRE As­so­ci­ated Press

■ Pro­claim­ing that “there’s go­ing to be peace in the Mid­dle East,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hosted Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu of Is­rael and the for­eign min­is­ters of United Arab Emi­rates and Bahrain for the for­mal sign­ing of new di­plo­matic ac­cords be­tween them. Al­though the de­tails re­main un­known, the agree­ments will nor­mal­ize di­plo­matic re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and UAE and Bahrain.

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 sun­washed 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,” 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 Ne­tanyahu nor 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 Ne­tanyahu for “halt­ing the an­nex­a­tion” of West Bank land claimed by the Pales­tini­ans in ex­change for Emi­rati recog­ni­tion. 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,” alNahyan said.

Bahrani 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 Is­rae l, 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 Trump, Ne­tanyahu and the lead­ers of the UAE and Bahrain.

Is­rael and the U.S. 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,” Trump told re­porters before the cer­e­mony.

Many long­time Mideast an­a­lysts and for­mer of­fi­cials, among oth­ers, have ex­pressed doubts about the im­pact of the sign­ings.

In ad­di­tion to the bi­lat­eral agree­ments signed by Is­rael, the UAE and Bahrain, all three signed a doc­u­ment dubbed the “Abra­ham Ac­cords” after the pa­tri­arch of the world’s three ma­jor monothe­is­tic re­li­gions.

The “Abra­ham Ac­cords” and the bi­lat­eral agree­ment signed by Is­rael and Bahrain fell short of more de­tailed for­mal treaties that are the di­plo­matic norm. Both doc­u­ments were made up of gen­eral state­ments pledg­ing to ad­vance diplo­macy, mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion and re­gional peace.

The most de­tailed of the agree­ments was the one be­tween Is­rael and the United Arab Emi­rates. The na­tions agreed to ap­prove bi­lat­eral agree­ments on 15 ar­eas of mu­tual in­ter­est, in­clud­ing fi­nance, trade, avi­a­tion, en­ergy, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, health, agri­cul­ture and water.

Dur­ing the sign­ing cer­e­mony, the lead­ers were seated at a long ta­ble where Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man once held weekly lun­cheon meet­ings with his Cab­i­net. Dis­cus­sions about the Tru­man Doc­trine to re­strain Soviet ex­pan­sion dur­ing the Cold War and the Mar­shall Plan to send bil­lions in eco­nomic aid to Western Europe after World War II were held at the ta­ble.

The stage­craft, in­clud­ing live mu­sic and flags was meant to evoke pre­vi­ous Mid­dle East agree­ments. Trump’s po­lit­i­cal back­ers are look­ing to boost his stand­ing as a states­man with just seven weeks to go before Elec­tion Day. Un­til now, for­eign pol­icy has not had a ma­jor role in a cam­paign dom­i­nated by the coro­n­avirus, racial is­sues and the econ­omy.

Be­sides Repub­li­cans, a few House Democrats at­tended the event, a no­table devel­op­ment at a time when their leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is barely on speak­ing terms with the pres­i­dent. Many Democrats, in­clud­ing pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den, widely sup­port the deal.

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said she ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion im­me­di­ately on re­ceiv­ing it over the week­end. “It def­i­nitely was a mon­u­men­tal event, and the cer­e­mony was very fit­ting for that,” Luria, a mem­ber of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view af­ter­ward.

Like Luria, some other Democrats in at­ten­dance, such as Rep. An­thony Brin­disi of New York, are fresh­men in tough re­elec­tion races. Still oth­ers, such as Florida Reps. Ted Deutch and Stephanie Mur­phy hail from dis­tricts with large num­bers of Jewish con­stituents.

Ques­tions re­main, how­ever, about the sig­nif­i­cance of the agree­ments. Even in Is­rael, where the ac­cords have re­ceived wide­spread ac­claim, there is con­cern they might re­sult in U.S. sales of so­phis­ti­cated weaponry to the UAE and Bahrain, thus po­ten­tially up­set­ting Is­rael’s qual­i­ta­tive mil­i­tary edge in the re­gion.

Trump said he is OK with sell­ing mil­i­tary air­craft to the UAE. Pelosi also wel­comed the agree­ments but said she wants to learn de­tails, specif­i­cally what the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has told the UAE about buy­ing Amer­i­can­made F-35 air­craft and about Is­rael agree­ing to freeze ef­forts to an­nex por­tions of the West Bank.

The UAE and Bahrain have a his­tory of sup­press­ing dis­sent and crit­i­cal pub­lic opin­ion, but there have been in­di­ca­tions that the agree­ments are not nearly as pop­u­lar or well­re­ceived as they are in Is­rael. Nei­ther coun­try sent its head of state or gov­ern­ment to sign the deals with Ne­tanyahu.

Bahrain’s largest Shi­ite­dom­i­nated op­po­si­tion group, Al-We­faq, which the gov­ern­ment or­dered dis­solved in 2016 amid a years­long crack­down on dis­sent, said there is wide­spread re­jec­tion of nor­mal­iza­tion.

The cer­e­mony fol­lowed months of in­tri­cate diplo­macy headed by Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s son-in­law and se­nior ad­viser, and the pres­i­dent’s en­voy for in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions, Avi Berkowitz. On Aug. 13, the Is­rael-UAE deal was an­nounced. That was fol­lowed by the first di­rect com­mer­cial flight be­tween the coun­tries, and then the Sept. 11 an­nounce­ment of the Bahrain-Is­rael agree­ment.

YURI GRIPAS Abaca Press | TNS

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, United Arab Emi­rates' Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs and In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion, Sheikh Ab­dul­lah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right, and Bahrain For­eign Min­is­ter Dr. Ab­dul­latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, left, par­tic­i­pate in an Abra­ham Ac­cords Sign­ing Cer­e­mony on the South Lawn of the White House on Tues­day.

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