Israel says it will temporarily “suspend” plans to annex the West Bank, as part of a new peace deal with the United Arab Emirates.
The deal was announced by US President Donald Trump, who told reporters in the Oval Office that he had a “very special call” with leaders from both countries, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and that they had agreed to a peace agreement.
Trump also tweeted a lengthy joint statement between the US, UAE and Israel, calling the agreement to “full normalization of relations” between Israel and the UAE a “historic diplomatic breakthrough.”
The UAE and Israel plan to exchange embassies and ambassadors, according to the statement. It will be the third Arab country to open relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan.
“This deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East,” Trump said Thursday.
“It will be known as the Abraham Accord,” Trump said of the agreement, which, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said, is named for “the father of all three great faiths,” Christian, Muslim, and Jewish.
“I wanted it to be called the Donald J. Trump Accord but I didn’t think the press would understand that,” Trump said to laughter.
Trump also suggested that other countries will follow the UAE’s lead “now that the ice has been broken.”
“We are already discussing this with other nations,” Trump said. “So you will probably see others of these.”
PLO rejects agreement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “historic evening,” adding: “A new era opens between Israel and the Arab world.”
Speaking in Jerusalem, he said: “We are establishing full and official peace, full diplomatic agreement, with embassies, investments, commerce, tourism, direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Asked whether it was right to characterize the UAE agreement as stopping annexation, Netanyahu said: “We received a request to wait temporarily from President Trump. It is a temporary postponement. It is not removed from the table, I am telling you that.”
Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid congratulated Netanyahu, adding, “This step is proof that negotiations and agreements, not unilateral steps like annexation, which would harm Israel’s security, are the way forward for our diplomatic relations.”
Israel’s Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz lauded the agreement, saying it “highlights Israel’s eternal aspiration toward peace with its neighbors.”
But Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas trashed the peace agreement as “a betrayal of Jerusalem.”
In a statement read out on Palestine TV, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, “The Palestinian leadership rejects what the United Arab Emirates has done and considers it a betrayal of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause. This deal is a de facto recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The PA also announced it was immediately withdrawing its Ambassador to the UAE, according to a statement on the Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected the agreement, as did Palestinian militant group Hamas.
In response to a tweet by Bin Zayed about the agreement, PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi tweeted: “May you never experience the agony of having your country stolen; may you never feel the pain of living in captivity under occupation; may you never witness the demolition of your home or murder of your loved ones. May you never be sold out by your ‘friends.’”
Fawzi Barhoum, spokesman for Hamas, said in a statement: “We strongly condemn, in all possible ways, normalization with Israel, which is considered a stab in the back to the Palestinian cause, and will only encourage it to commit more crimes and aggressions against the Palestinian people.”
The leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, Mustafa Barghouti told CNN: “This normalization deal is an effort to support Mr. Trump who is clearly losing the US election, it will not have a big effect on the ground.”
“This is a stab in the back of the Palestinian people and not a potential for real peace,” Barghouti added.
“It’s really shocking that as such a deal was agreed on when Israel said it will not stop the annexation but will only postpone it, and clearly this should not be called the deal of the century but the deceit of the century,” he said.
White House touts result
The Trump administration made much of the deal on Thursday.
Friedman congratulated the US President on what he called the historic agreement in the Oval Office.
White House adviser and special representative for international negotiations Avi Berkowitz touted the achievement. “Peace is a beautiful thing,” Berkowitz said.
Trump heaped praise on his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who said Trump urged his team to take an “untraditional approach.”
“You can’t solve problems that have gone unsolved by doing it the same way that people before you have tried and failed,” Kushner said, adding that the announcement shows there is ‘hope’ and ‘potential’ for the region.
Kushner declined to speculate about how long Israel will suspend its annexation plans on the West Bank, when a reporter asked him about the timing during a Thursday afternoon news briefing at the White House.
National security adviser Robert O’Brien added that the Middle East was a “mess” when Trump took office and this is another step to fix that. O’Brien said there will be a meeting of the delegations in the coming weeks, which, Trump added, would take place at the White House.
Trump jokingly asked Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin, who also praised the development, whether it was easier to negotiate with these countries or the Democrats amid stalled coronavirus stimulus negotiations.
“Middle East is more reasonable,” Trump joked.
The White House maintained a tight hold on this announcement, with only a select few top State Department officials aware that this announcement was coming. Most working level State Department officials were surprised when the announcement came, said two State Department officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Last week when an interagency delegation traveled to the UAE, a peace agreement with Israel was not discussed, the officials said.
“This is a game changer,” one of the officials said. “Simply put, this is breaking out of the mold.”
The administration was able to seize on the UAE and Israel’s common enemy of Iran as a way to achieve this agreement, one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. While this is likely to ruffle feathers in other Arab capitals, it will ultimately create solidarity among a greater number of countries confronting Iran, this official said.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi welcomed the UAE and Israel agreement towards establishing bilateral relations on Thursday.
“I followed with great interest and appreciation the tripartite joint statement between the United States of America, our brotherly United Arab Emirates and Israel regarding the agreement to stop Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian lands and taking steps to bring peace to the Middle East,” Sisi said in a tweet.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the UAE and Israel’s decision.
“The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalise relations is hugely good news,” Johnson tweeted.
“It was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and today’s agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East,” he added.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement on Thursday: “This is an historic step which sees the normalisation of relations between two great friends of the UK. We welcome both the decision by the UAE to normalise relations with Israel, as well as the suspension of plans for annexation – a move the UK has opposed as it would have been counterproductive to securing peace in the region.
“Ultimately, there is no substitute for direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which is the only way to a reach a two state solution and a lasting peace.”
This breaking story has been updated with additional reporting.
Reporting contributed by Kareem Khadder and Andrew Carey in Jerusalem, Mostafa Salem, Kylie Atwood, and Vivian Salama.