Trump hosts Israel, UAE and Bahrain at signing ceremony

  • >> Michael Crowley, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-09-16 01:03:49 BdST

From left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Donald Trump, Minister of Foreign Affairs Khalid Al Khalifa of Bahrain, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, during a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords, at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Proclaiming that “there’s going to be peace in the Middle East,” President Donald Trump hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the foreign ministers of United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House on Tuesday for the formal signing of new diplomatic accords between them.

The ceremony took place on the White House’s South Lawn marking an agreement that has become a focal point of the president’s foreign policy message in the closing weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Although the details remain unknown, the agreements, known as the Abraham Accords, will normalise diplomatic relations between Israel and UAE and Bahrain, including the establishment of the first embassies in one another’s countries. Israel and the UAE recently announced the start of the first commercial flights between them. Until now, Israel had normal relations with only two other Arab states, Jordan and Egypt.

The staging of the event seemed designed to invoke the scene 25 years ago in the same location, when President Bill Clinton brokered an agreement — and iconic handshake — between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But many analysts of the region, while affording Trump credit for helping to broker the agreement — work spearheaded by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner — called the talk of peace overblown. They note that Israel has long been moving into a de facto alliance with the Persian Gulf’s Sunni Arab states, largely in common cause against Shia Iran.

“It’s not conflict resolution and it’s not peace — this is a business deal,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel advocacy group sharply critical of Netanyahu. “It’s very, very clear that there are aligned interests between Israel and these countries — military, security, diplomatic, economic — and those interests have been there for two decades.”

“This formalises that, but it shouldn’t be overplayed as resolving a core conflict for Israel with its neighbours,” he added. Israel’s decades-old conflict with the Palestinians, he said, “remains unaddressed with this agreement.”

Meeting with Netanyahu in the Oval Office, Trump presented Netanyahu with a large golden key embedded in a wooden box that he described as “a key to the White House, a key to our country.”

“You have the key to the hearts of the people of Israel,” Netanyahu replied.

“This is peace in the Middle East without blood all over the sand,” Trump added.

Speaking on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning, Trump boasted that Tuesday’s event was just the beginning of grander things to come.

“We have many others going to be coming in over a short period of time,” Trump said, “And the Palestinians will ultimately come in too. You’re going to have peace in the Middle East.”

But during Tuesday’s ceremony the Palestinians seemed an afterthought, going unmentioned in the official remarks of Trump and Netanyahu.

Palestinian leaders, however, show no sign of reconsidering their adamant refusal to negotiate with Israel in the framework of a peace plan the Trump White House released in January.

Trump also said on Fox that he would “have absolutely no problem” selling the F-35 fighter jet to the United Arab Emirates, a step the Trump administration is considering despite objections in Israel over the sale of advanced military hardware to an Arab state.

Trump officials deny that such a sale was a condition for the Emirates to strike its agreement with Israel.

©2020 The New York Times Company