Trump Scores Diplomatic Deal With Middle East Allies as Netanyahu Says Annexation ‘Still on the Table’

August 14, 2020 Updated: August 14, 2020

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump on Thursday managed to pull off a rare victory for U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid by helping to broker a deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as part of his administration’s Middle East peace plan.

The Gulf monarchy and Israel agreed to a normalization of diplomatic relations. Per a request from Trump, Israel also said it would suspend declaring sovereignty over certain areas, including the West Bank, and is focused on expanding ties to other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.

Soon after he sealed the agreement by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Trump called it a “HUGE breakthrough” on Twitter and told reporters there were more things happening in the Middle East “that I can’t talk about, but they’re extremely positive.”

“After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations,” Trump said. “They will exchange embassies and ambassadors, and begin cooperation across the board and on a broad range of areas, including tourism, education, healthcare, trade and security.

He added that the deal “will allow much greater access to Muslims from throughout the world to visit the many historic sites in Israel.”

“I made clear that the problems of the Middle East can only be solved when people of all faiths come together to fight Islamic extremism and pursue economic opportunity for people of all faiths,” he said of his Middle East peace plan.

In Israel, Netanyahu told reporters that the Trump administration’s peace plan is “most realistic and important formula for peace in the region.”

The Netanyahu government’s talk of annexing the West Bank had been an uncomfortable development for Washington, seen by many as a possible death knell to Trump’s peace plan.

In early May, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said that he hoped Israel would consider Trump’s Middle East peace proposal before “proceeding with any plan” to annex the West Bank settlements of Judea and Samaria.

While Netanyahu told reporters after the call that annexation is “still on the table” and was something he remains “committed to,” he clarified that “extending sovereignty will be done only alongside the United States.”

“Without coordination, in the best case, will do nothing, and in the worst case, will harm relations between us,” he added of potential future decisions.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman when asked how long Israel might suspend its annexation plan told reporters at the White House, “We’ve prioritized peace over the sovereignty movement but it’s not off the table. It’s just something that will be deferred until we give peace every single chance.

“It’s off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement from Ramallah that he “rejects and denounces the surprising announcement by Israel, the United States, and the UAE,” calling the UAE’s decision a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Palestinian cause.” Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas also decried the agreement.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, offered reassurance to Palestinians, saying in a statement that the move “immediately stops annexation and the potential for violent escalation. It maintains the viability of a two-state solution as endorsed by the Arab League and international community.”

He added, “The UAE will remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people—for their dignity, their rights and their own sovereign state … We will forcefully advocate for these ends, now directly and bolstered with stronger incentives, policy options, and diplomatic tools.”

Crown Prince Mohammed said on Twitter that the agreement with Israel would “stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories.”

A senior official from Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party applauded the agreement: “The Israeli and international left always said that it is impossible to bring peace with Arab nations without peace with the Palestinian people. That there is no other way except from withdrawing from the ’67 borders, clearing out the settlements, dividing Jerusalem, and establishing a Palestinian state. This is the first time in history that Prime Minister Netanyahu broke the paradigm of ‘land for peace’ and brought ‘peace in exchange for peace.'”

Global Response

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the agreement.

“The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalise relations is hugely good news,” Johnson said on Twitter.

“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.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi also expressed his support for the regional development.

“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,” he expressed on Twitter.

But Iran and Turkey lashed out at their regional rival, on Friday, also accusing the UAE of betraying the Palestinian cause.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry called the deal a “dagger that was unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims.”

Turkish Foreign Ministry said the UAE had no authority to negotiate with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians or “to make concessions on matters vital to Palestine.”

Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s lead official on Iran who lead the maximum-pressure campaign and will be leaving his post soon, said the new agreement amounted to a “nightmare” for Iran in its efforts against Israel in the region.

“No one has done more to intensify the conflict between Arabs and Israelis than Iran,” he explained.

More Deals in the Works?

White House officials said Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, Friedman, and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz were deeply involved in negotiating the deal, as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

Echoing comments by Trump, Kushner told reporters in a conference call that other countries in the region may now come forward to strike a similar deal with Israel.

“There is a good chance that another country could make a deal with Israel in the coming days,” Kushner said.

Kushner said discussions between United States, Israeli, and UAE officials had been taking place for the past year and a half but accelerated in the past six weeks and an agreement in principle for a deal was reached a week ago, with details completed on Wednesday.

Israel has had no diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab countries, but common concerns with the UAE about Iran’s regional influence and activities had led to a limited thaw in relations in recent years. The UAE previously had warned that Israel could not expect to normalize relations with the Arab world if it annexed land in the West Bank.

By Steve Holland. With additional reporting by Epoch Times reporter Zachary Stieber and The Associated Press.