image Photo: Reuters, Flash90

Historic Israel & UAE deal to normalize ties

A new era of peace between Jerusalem and the Arab world was ushered in when U.S. President Donald Trump made an announcement yesterday evening that the State of Israel and the United Arab Emirates have established full and formal ties.

“After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations,” said the U.S. leader, saying the two countries would “exchange embassies and ambassadors and begin cooperation across the board and on a broad range of areas, including tourism, education, health care, trade and security.”

The Washington-brokered deal appears to have been in the making for some time. In recognition and attempts to capitalize upon a broader regional sentiment toward acceptance of the necessity for a fundamental strategic shift, President Trump managed to convince the respective leaderships in both Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi that a peace accord would ultimately benefit the entire region.

“This is a truly historic moment. Not since the Israel Jordan-Peace Treaty was signed more than 25 years ago has so much progress been made towards peace in the Middle East. By uniting two of America’s closest and most capable partners in the region — something they said could not be done — this deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East,” declared Trump.

One of the crucial factors contributing to Israel’s latest pact with a member state of the moderate Arab world is shared concern over Iran and its aggressive foreign policy. A coherent Arab-Israeli alliance would certainly challenge the Islamic Republic’s malign campaign against regional hegemony – a fact highlighted by the U.S. State Department’s Envoy for Iran Brian Hook.

Peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is Iran’s worst nightmare. And no one has done more to intensify the conflict between Arabs and Israelis than Iran,” said Hook, adding, “And what we see today is a new Middle East. The trend lines are very different today.” The American envoy went on to say that “the future is very much in the Gulf and with Israel – and the past is with the Iranian regime. It clings to power on the basis of brute force that it’s lost — It’s facing a crisis of legitimacy and credibility with its own people.” In regard to the U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration against Iran, he said that “the president’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign has achieved historic results.”

Another key element of Abu Dhabi’s agreement to normalize ties with Jerusalem involved Israel’s commitment to not assert sovereignty over disputed territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River, which include the Jordan Valley, and Biblical Districts of Judea and Samaria.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash commented, “So we were thinking, let us try to put one and one together. Let us try and develop this organic relationship that is developing with Israel in many, many, areas and let’s really try and get something tangible. Let us try and basically… you know sort of, deal with the current threat towards a two-state solution, negotiations for a two-state solution. And the current threat is really this annexation of Palestinian territories. So, this is how the idea began. And the idea was very clear, that Israel will commit to, in a three-way phone call with the United States, to stopping annexation, suspending it and at the same time, we will be able to also announce that we will begin, what I would call, a normal relationship with Israel in various, various areas, technology, investment, healthcare, agriculture, etc. – leading to reciprocal diplomatic representation.”

In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that the deal was based on mutual interests that included a new fundamental equation for negotiating peace with the Jewish State. During a nationally-televised announcement of the historic peace achievement, he said that, “All of us, the moderate states across the Middle East, stand on one front for the sake of advancement, on one front against the radical forces which threaten us and global peace. Establishing true peace is our soul’s aspired journey. Peace that safeguards security and our nation’s most valued assets, peace that keeps war at bay and doesn’t draw it near, peace that is founded on full economic cooperation and genuine respect. True peace, not a slogan, peace derived from power, peace for peace. Here, too, we have broken new ground.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu also said he wanted “to thank President Trump from the bottom of my heart, one of Israel’s greatest friends throughout history, for bringing an official peace accord between us and the United Arab Emirates,” going on to relay blessings of peace to citizens and leaders of the UAE and people of Israel.

“I want I relay a message to the public of the UAE, first and foremost Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Zayed – Salam Aleikum, Shalom Aleichem (Arabic and Hebrew for ‘may peace be upon you’) and may peace be upon us.”

Netanyahu later rejected reports that his plan to annex significant parts of the West Bank has been abandoned; insisting it has rather only been temporarily suspended. When asked about the matter by a journalist, he replied, “There is no change in my plan to apply our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States. I am committed, it has not changed. I remind you that I am the one who put the issue of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria on the table. This issue continues to remain on the table. It was initially put on the table because of my efforts.”

The Israeli leader then stressed, “However, from the beginning I had said something more – you quoted me and I repeated it time and again – that the application of sovereignty will be done exclusively in coordination with the United States. Declaration of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria without American support at best means nothing, and at worst will severely harm the settlements and the state of Israel too. Now, President Trump – one of Israel’s greatest friends – who entered the matter of sovereignty into his peace plan per my request, requested that Israel temporarily holds off with the application of sovereignty. He asked first to advance the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE, and I believe also with other Arab states.”

“But I have not removed, nor will I remove, the matter of sovereignty from the agenda,” underscored the Premier.

When asked about the matter at a White House press briefing after Netanyahu’s remarks, President Trump said, “Right now, all I can say, it is off the table. So, I cannot talk about sometime into the future. That is a big statement. But, right now, it is off the table.” Trump then requested for confirmation from U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, to whom he was standing alongside. “Yes, the word ‘suspend’ was chosen very carefully by all the parties. ‘Suspend,’ by definition – you can look it up – means temporary halt. It is off the table now, but it is not off the table permanently,” clarified the American envoy.

President Trump also revealed that as part of the international talks, Washington has been lobbying protection for Christian minorities in Muslim majority states. He delivered a scathing warning to Mideast countries which terrorize their Christian residents and vowed to take vigorous action if presented with definitive proof of the commission of any atrocities. “It is a very big part of the overall negotiation, and as countries come in – for instance, UAE has agreed very strongly to represent us, I think they will very well, with respect to Christianity. Because, in the Middle East, it is not treated well.” After saying that he told “every one of our negotiators” that “it is beyond disgraceful” how “Christians have been treated in some countries, he said that if he had “absolute proof some of the stories that we have heard, which is not easy to get, I would go in and do a number to those countries like you wouldn’t believe.”

Meanwhile on the streets of Tel Aviv, news of the Israeli-UAE pact was greeted with joy and optimism. City resident Ofer Shefi told Reuters, “I am very happy for the agreement with Arab Emirates and I hope there will be other agreements with other Arab states.”

That aspiration for a wider rapprochement with the Arab world was shared by Nir Hauser, who said “I think the agreement with the United Arab Emirates is very exciting – and as an Israeli, we want peace with all of our neighbors; and so peace with them is one very big step in that direction. It’s very exciting, and this is great moment for all of Israel.”