Israel and U.A.E. agree to full diplomatic relations

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday they are establishing full diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal that required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians.

U.S.-brokered deal elicits anger from Palestinians

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a deal on Thursday that will lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters, Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday they are establishing full diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal that required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians.

The deal delivered a key foreign policy victory to U.S. President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about archenemy Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal amounts to "treason" and should be reversed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal has ushered in a "new era" in Israel's relations with the Arab world.

In a nationally broadcast statement delivered on Thursday, Netanyahu said the "full and official peace" with the U.A.E. would lead to co-operation in many spheres between the countries and a "wonderful future" for citizens of both nations.

WATCH | Netanyahu announces deal between Israel and U.A.E.: 

Netanyahu hails Israel's historic peace accord with U.A.E.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement with the United Arab Emirates marked a significant milestone in peace with Arab countries.

Among Arab nations, only Egypt and Jordan have active diplomatic ties with Israel. Egypt made a peace deal with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.

Netanyahu also said that the Trump administration asked that Israel put its West Bank annexation plans on hold to move forward with the agreement on ties with the U.A.E.

But he said there was "no change" to his plans to annex parts of the West Bank, simply that the plans were on "temporary hold" and that implementing annexation would be done with U.S. co-ordination.

Emirati officials described the deal in pragmatic terms. Anwar Gargash, a top Emirati official, said they had dealt a "death blow" to an aggressive Israeli move and hoped to help reshape the region.

"Is it perfect? Nothing is perfect in a very difficult region," Gargash said. "But I think we used our political chips right."

Omar Ghobash, assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy, told The Associated Press: "I don't think anything was written in stone. We are opening a door. We are hoping the Israelis will see the benefits to this step."

"I would assume that this is political manoeuvring within a very complex political society."

First of its kind since 1994

The peace deal was the product of lengthy discussions between Israel, the U.A.E. and the United States that recently accelerated, White House officials said.

The agreement was sealed in a phone call on Thursday between U.S. President Donald Trump, Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

The officials described the agreement, to be known as the Abraham Accords, as the first of its kind since Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994. It also gives Trump a foreign policy success as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.

White House officials said Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, U.S. ambassador to Israel David 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.

A joint statement issued by the three nations said the three leaders had "agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates."

"This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region," the statement said.

WATCH | U.S. president announces historic deal between Israel and U.A.E.:

U.S. president announces historic deal between Israel and U.A.E.

2 years ago
Duration 0:53
President Donald Trump touted the deal as a 'significant' step toward a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.

Palestinian reaction

For the Palestinians, who long have relied on Arab backing in their struggle for independence, the announcement marked both a win and setback. While Thursday's deal halts Israeli annexation plans for the moment, the Palestinians have repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalize relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.

Abbas condemned the deal following a meeting of his top leadership.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as the heartland of a future state. Those settlements are now home to some 500,000 Israelis.

The Trump Mideast plan envisions granting Israel permanent control over 30 per cent of that territory, while offering the Palestinians limited autonomy in the remainder. After embracing the plan, Netanyahu backed away from moving forward with annexation last month in the face of fierce international opposition and misgivings by White House officials.

The Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, Israel's largest in the occupied West Bank, with a view of the Jerusalem skyline in the background. Under the deal, Israel has agreed to temporarily suspend applying sovereignty to areas of the West Bank that it has been discussing annexing. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

The Palestinians have rejected Trump's Mideast plan out of hand.

Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, convened a meeting of his top leadership Thursday night, and afterward his spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the agreement amounted to "treason." He said that the U.A.E. must reverse the decision and urged other Arab countries not to follow suit "at the expense of Palestinian rights."

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the U.A.E. has come forward with its "secret dealings/normalization with Israel."

"Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it's been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation," she wrote on Twitter. "Please don't do us a favour. We are nobody's fig leaf!" 

The militant group, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called the deal by the Emiratis "a stabbing in the back of our people."

Partnerships on many fronts

The joint statement from the U.S., the U.A.E. and Israel said delegations would meet in the coming weeks to sign deals on direct flights, security, telecommunications, energy, tourism and health care. The two countries also will partner on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and are expected soon to exchange ambassadors and embassies.

"Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East's most dynamic societies and advanced economics will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation and forging closer people-to-people relations," said the statement by Trump, Netanyahu and Bin Zayed. It said the leaders had a three-way call discussing the deal.

Joe Biden is calling the agreement "a historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East."

The former U.S. vice-president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee issued a statement on Thursday, calling the agreement "a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship" and a "critical recognition that Israel is a vibrant, integral part of the Middle East that is here to stay."

Biden also said that West Bank annexation by Israel "would be a body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president" if he's elected when the U.S. votes in November. He said that as president, he'd seek to foster a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Regional reaction

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also praised Thursday's agreement, saying he "values the efforts of those in charge of the deal to achieve prosperity and stability for our region."

The Gulf Arab island-nation of Bahrain said it welcomes the deal and that it takes "steps to enhance the chances for Middle East peace."

Bahrain, like the U.A.E., has long been eyeing ties with Israel and hosted a conference for the Trump administration aimed at rallying economic support for his Middle East plan unveiled last year.

With files from Reuters