WASHINGTON – Hoping to bolster his foreign policy credentials ahead of November’s election, President Donald Trump on Tuesday oversaw the formal recognition of Israel by two Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, during a White House South Lawn ceremony.
The two Persian Gulf nations became only the third and fourth Arab countries to fully open ties with Israel, a country most Middle Eastern nations have long refused to recognize, in part for its failure to resolve the conflict with Palestinians. Egypt and Jordan had previously established ties with Israel.
The historic step in Arab-Israeli relations was orchestrated by the Trump administration, which dangled U.S. arms sales as an incentive for the UAE.
In an elaborately choreographed ceremony, Trump hailed the agreements as a “foundation” for peace in the region that could finally end the Arab-Israeli conflict.
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the agreements marked “a change in the heart of the Middle East.” He was joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Zayani.
Israel is not at war with either country and already enjoys business and security ties, albeit discreetly, with both Arab states. Tuesday’s agreements broke a decades-old commitment by most of the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel only after it agreed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank have condemned the UAE and Bahrain for moving forward without a peace deal for the Palestinians. Rockets were reportedly fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel as the ceremony took place, injuring two Israelis.
“Efforts to bypass the Palestinian people and their leadership will have dangerous consequences,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement. “The U.S. administration and the Israeli government will be held accountable.”
“We are witnessing a black day in the history of the Arab nation,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Twitter.
At the White House, there were no handshakes, possibly in observance of coronavirus restrictions. The leaders, who did not wear masks, read statements from a White House balcony to about 200 people below, sitting side by side. Some in the audience wore masks, but the administration did not require them. The men then descended a staircase and sat at tables on the lawn to sign statements in English, Arabic and Hebrew.
Trump predicted additional Arab countries would soon join in recognizing Israel, but declined to name any.
He used an Oval Office meeting before the ceremony to take several digs at his Democratic presidential rival, Joe Biden, and to criticize the Palestinians, who flatly rejected as one-sided his administration’s attempts to broker a resolution with Israel.
Copies of the agreements were not immediately released to the public, making it difficult to discern how far they go and whether they are binding.