WASHINGTON: The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements yesterday for normalizing relations with Israel, becoming the latest Arab states to break a longstanding taboo in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran. US 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 decades-old 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 to normalize ties 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. But he did not name any of the nations involved in such talks.
Speaking from the White House balcony, Trump said: “After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.
We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history.” Flags of the United States, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain were in abundance. He called it “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.”
Hundreds of Palestinians protested yesterday against the normalization deals as the White House hosted the signing ceremony. Clutching Palestinian flags and wearing blue facemasks for protection against the novel coronavirus, demonstrators rallied in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron and in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds also took part in a demonstration in Ramallah, home of the Palestinian Authority. Banners were displayed at the protests, reading “Treason”, “No to normalization with the (Israeli) occupier” and “The agreements of shame”.
In Gaza, protesters trampled on and set fire to placards of the leaders. “We say to the Bahraini regime and the Emirates that this normalization is a total betrayal of the Palestinian cause and the hopes of the Arab nation,” said Ahmad Al-Medalal, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza. The signing of normalization agreements with Israel marks a “black day” for the Arab world, Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Monday.
Israel and the US have for years pressed Gulf countries to establish relations with the Jewish state, particularly in light of their shared animosity towards Iran. The Jewish state has previously signed peace deals with just two Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan, in 1979 and 1994, respectively.
With Trump up for re-election 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 predicted the Palestinians would eventually join forge peace with Israel or else be “left out in the cold”. Some differences remain despite warming ties. Trump said yesterday 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. – Agencies