Israel and United Arab Emirates Strike Major Diplomatic Agreement

admin
Read Time:33 Minute, 58 Second

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a landmark accord sealed by President Trump on Thursday that could presage a broader realignment in the region as the two agreed to “full normalization of relations” in exchange for Israel suspending annexation of occupied West Bank territory.

In a surprise announcement at the White House after a three-way phone call with Israeli and Emirati leaders, Mr. Trump said the deal would lead to greater cooperation on investment, tourism, security, technology, energy and other areas while the two countries move to allow regular direct passenger flights, open embassies and trade ambassadors for the first time.

If fulfilled, the pact would make the Emirates only the third Arab country to have normal diplomatic relations with Israel along with Egypt, which signed a peace agreement in 1979, and Jordan, which signed a treaty in 1994. It could reorder the long stalemate in the region, potentially leading other Arab nations to follow suit in forging an increasingly explicit alliance with Israel against their mutual enemy in Iran while taking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s explosive annexation plan off the table, at least for now.

“This deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East,” Mr. Trump told reporters in a hastily arranged event in the Oval Office. “Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead.”

But the agreement generated an immediate backlash in the region from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. At least some Israeli settlers and their political allies were disappointed that Mr. Netanyahu would give up his plan to claim sovereignty over West Bank territory, while Palestinians felt abandoned by an Arab nation leaving them to remain locked in an untenable status quo even without the threat of annexation.

“This is a black day in the history of Palestine,” Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, said in an interview shortly before the Palestinian ambassador to the Emirates was recalled in protest. “This agreement is a total departure from the Arab consensus. The Palestinian people have not authorized anyone to make concessions to Israel in exchange for anything.”

Israel and the Emirates have long maintained a thinly veiled secret relationship over mutual interests, and the idea of formalizing it had come up several times over the past year. But the two sides essentially took it into the open after six weeks of indirect talks through Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, culminating in Thursday’s phone call between Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates.

The deal gave Mr. Trump a much-welcomed breakthrough at a time when he has been struggling at home with a deadly pandemic and economic collapse amid a re-election contest that polls show he is losing. Both Israel and the Emirates, each for its own reasons, were happy to credit Mr. Trump to advance their positions in Washington, and the president plans to stage a celebratory White House signing ceremony in coming weeks.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: A Dinner and a Deal

The United Arab Emirates has become the first Arab country in nearly 30 years to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. It was a shift with a delicate dance behind it.

0:00/31:08

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: A Dinner and a Deal

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Michael Simon Johnson, Eric Krupke and Rachelle Bonja, and edited by Lisa Tobin

The United Arab Emirates has become the first Arab country in nearly 30 years to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. It was a shift with a delicate dance behind it.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

Today: For the first time in nearly 30 years, an Arab country has established full diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. Mark Landler on what it says about the changing dynamics of the Middle East.

It’s Tuesday, August 18.

Mark, tell me about this dinner.

mark landler

Well, so it was March of 2018. My recollection was it was kind of a rainy night. And it was a dinner at a restaurant called Cafe Milano, which is in Georgetown. And this is one of these classic Washington watering holes. The Trumps go there. The Obama administration, top officials used to go. It’s an Italian restaurant, you know, full of power brokers. And one of the most faithful and well-heeled customers of this restaurant is a diplomat whose name is Yousef Otaiba. And Otaiba is the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington. So he’s not necessarily a diplomat from one of the world’s biggest countries. But he has transformed himself into one of the most well-connected and influential ambassadors in Washington. And one of the ways he has done this over the years is by developing this network of contacts among administration officials, both Democratic and Republican people on Capitol Hill and members of the media, which is how yours truly got to find himself at Cafe Milano that night in March.

Otaiba had put together a dinner with a senior Trump administration official, who oversaw the administration’s policy toward Iran, as well as a number of other senior journalists and one other guest, who was the ambassador to the United States from Bahrain — which is another Persian Gulf kingdom. So we sat down for what was kind of a classic Yousef Otaiba evening.

But early in the evening, we realized, or we were told by the owner of the restaurant, that there was another important person dining there that night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

michael barbaro

Huh.

mark landler

Who is in town in Washington that week for the annual meeting of AIPAC, which is a big pro-Israel lobbying group. And he was dining there that night with his wife Sara. So in this private room where we were gathered with Otaiba, a group of us began to say, well, wouldn’t it be interesting slash fun to invite Netanyahu to come say hi to the group.

michael barbaro

Now why would that be interesting and fun?

mark landler

Well, interesting because the idea of the prime minister of Israel coming in to meet with two diplomats from Gulf Arab countries would really be actually sort of a small landmark. These are countries, after all, that don’t recognize Israel, that have spent years denouncing Israel, the very notion of a Zionist state, that are huge champions of the Palestinians. And so the idea that Netanyahu would come in and greet and make small talk would be kind of a big deal.

So with Otaiba’s agreement, one of the guests at the table slipped out and made his way across the restaurant, introduced himself to the prime minister, and said, you know, gee, when you’re finished with dinner, why don’t you and your wife come over and say hi to Yousef Otaiba and his guests? And Netanyahu said he would.

michael barbaro

What happens next?

mark landler

Well, so toward the end of the evening, as promised, the door opens. And Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara walk in. And it’s initially a somewhat stilted affair. People stand up. No one is quite sure what to do. He’s not really going to sit down and join us for dessert. But it’s really clear right away that Netanyahu wants to use this moment to drive home a point. And the point he wants to drive home is that Israel and the United Arab Emirates have reasons to be friendlier with one another. And the way he does it is by showcasing their shared enemy, which is Iran.

And so Netanyahu, as he has done publicly and privately scores of times, goes into a fairly familiar diatribe about Iranian misbehavior, Iranian misdeeds, and how Israel and the Gulf countries need to ally themselves against this threat from Iran. Otaiba nods throughout this. He’s in agreement with everything that Netanyahu is saying. And so on the surface, it feels like a rather innocuous conversation.

But the interesting moment comes a little bit later when Sara Netanyahu, who has a big personality, suddenly interjects to the ambassador, we would love to welcome you to Jerusalem. And Otaiba’s reaction is very polite and very charming. And he nods. But he’s somewhat noncommittal. He doesn’t say, oh, yes, sure, I’ll be there.

michael barbaro

Right.

mark landler

He just sort of suggests that it would be lovely if that happened. And on that kind of note, this meeting breaks up. And Netanyahu and his wife take their leave. The door closes. And then we all sit back down to digest what just happened.

michael barbaro

My sense is that this kind of exchange is quite taboo and they would not have wanted that interaction reported, for example.

mark landler

Well, indeed. And after Prime Minister Netanyahu left, the ambassador looked around the table and said, you realize that if you guys report this, I’m going to be in a lot of trouble back home. Now the ground rules for this dinner were that it was off the record. This is the way that Otaiba’s dinners are always run. So none of us went into that dinner with the expectation that we were going to be reporting things out of it. But it must be said that Washington is a leaky town. And there were 10 reporters sitting around a table. So the fact of this dinner and the encounter between Otaiba and Netanyahu did leak out. And it was reported on by the A.P. in the Israeli press, in the Arab press.

So it sort of falls into the category of an open secret, which in an odd way is a metaphor for the closer ties between the Gulf states and Israel. Everyone knows it’s happening. You just don’t really see it out in the open.

michael barbaro

Right. But just to be clear, it was not reported by Mark Landler, upstanding journalist who honors off-the-record agreements.

mark landler

It was not. And I should say at this moment, that I contacted Ambassador Otaiba and asked him, in light of this week’s news, whether he would be fine with me sharing this anecdote publicly. And he said he would, which is why I am able to tell it to you today.

michael barbaro

So Mark, it’s now very clear that whatever you observed at that dinner has continued on and led up to this week.

mark landler

Yeah, that’s right. And it’s actually led us to a really remarkable outcome in the annals of Middle East diplomacy. The United Arab Emirates announced it would normalize relations with the state of Israel, thus joining a very small number of Arab states to have recognized Israel. And it was in no small part a deal brokered by the Trump administration.

michael barbaro

Mhm. Just a few moments ago, I hosted a very special call with two friends, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, where they agreed to finalize a historical peace agreement.

mark landler

And they agreed —

archived recording (donald trump)

After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations.

mark landler

— to actually formalize a normalized relationship between them. And then afterwards, President Trump called the cameras into the Oval Office for what he declared, not using hyperbole, as a huge deal.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

archived recording (donald trump)

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.

mark landler

Because it is, in fact, a pretty huge deal.

michael barbaro

And when you say normalize, what does that actually mean, to normalize the relationship between these two countries?

mark landler

Well, on a very concrete level, it allows for certain things to happen. It allows for you to open an embassy and have an ambassador. It allows for flights to originate and fly between the countries. It deepens trading relationships. It also allows you to align yourselves much better strategically. And that becomes a big issue when you’re talking about confronting Iran. Whether it’s sharing intelligence, or working together diplomatically, or simply consulting one another, it’s much easier to do that when you have a traditional diplomatic relationship. It allows you to present a united front against a common foe.

michael barbaro

But Mark, beyond formalizing a normal relationship between the two countries, what does this deal actually do? And what did both sides get and give up?

mark landler

Well, first of all, it accomplishes something that Israel has long sought, which is to increase the list of its Arab neighbors that recognize it and have normal relations with it. From Israel’s perspective, having the U.A.E. in its corner is extremely important, because the U.A.E. has a great deal of influence over Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia is the big actor in this sphere. It is the leading Arab country in the Gulf. It’s the country that Israel most wants to obtain recognition from, most wants to normalize relations with. So that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, from the perspective of the United Arab Emirates, what’s key to this deal is that Israel has agreed not to annex occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank. If you recall, Prime Minister Netanyahu had said he planned to annex these territories.

archived recording (benjamin netanyahu)

That Israel will retain security control in the entire area west of the Jordan River, thereby giving Israel a permanent Eastern border.

mark landler

With or without a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

archived recording (benjamin netanyahu)

This is something we’ve longed to have. [APPLAUSE] We now have such a recognized boundary.

mark landler

And integrate them into the state of Israel. This is something that the Arab states, including the U.A.E., profoundly opposed. And so in a major quid pro quo, the U.A.E. basically said, if you don’t annex, we will normalize. So each side got something. And each side gave up something. In that sense, it was a sort of a classic diplomatic trade off.

michael barbaro

So let’s talk about the motivations that led the players here, the people you had seen at that dinner 18 months ago, to make this deal. Because as you said, at the time, it didn’t necessarily seem like something that would happen. So what happened between that dinner and this week that got both countries to this point?

mark landler

Well, the U.A.E. had always been open to a closer relationship with Israel. But there were several things holding it back. And the most important of these was the plight of the Palestinians. As long as there was this consensus in the Arab world that the Palestinians were being oppressed by Israel, there was no way that the U.A.E. could draw closer to Israel, even though it was interested in doing so because it felt very much that they had this common enemy in Iran.

And so really the most important thing that changed was, frankly, the diplomacy of the Trump administration. The Trump administration came into the region and tried to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that was tilted very heavily in favor of Israel. It contemplated the existence of a Palestinian state, but one that would be extremely fragmented with very little authority, very much a vassal state of Israel. And it was an offer that the Palestinians rejected out of hand. They refused to come to the table and sort of left the peace process at a standoff. What that in turn did, though, is precipitate Prime Minister Netanyahu to declare, I’m not going to wait for a peace deal. I’m going to go ahead and annex these settlement areas on the West Bank. These are places where Jewish settlers have built housing. I’m going to annex them into the state of Israel with or without a peace deal.

michael barbaro

Right.

mark landler

Netanyahu had come off a very difficult year, if you recall.

archived recording

Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads up the right-wing Likud party, has given up trying to form a new Israeli government.

mark landler

There were multiple indecisive elections.

archived recording (benjamin netanyahu)

[SPEAKING HEBREW]

archived recording (translator)

Since receiving the mandate, I’ve worked nonstop, both openly and secretly, to form a broad national unity government. This is what the people want. And this is also what Israel needs.

mark landler

He was unable to put together a true governing majority. He finally worked out a deal with his primary opponent to rotate the job of prime minister. On top of all of this, he is facing trial on corruption charges.

michael barbaro

Right.

mark landler

And there is a real question over his future.

archived recording (benjamin netanyahu)

[SPEAKING HEBREW]

archived recording (translator)

Elements in police at the General Attorney’s office have allied with left-wing media. I call them the “Just Not Bibi Gang” — in order to stitch up unfounded and hallucinatory cases against me. Your objective is to topple a strong right wing prime minister.

mark landler

So you have this prime minister who is somewhat cornered politically in a way where he really, really needs to appeal to his right flank, the right wing in Israel. And the way that he set out to do that was to take this very aggressive position on annexation. That’s very popular with the right. It’s very popular with the settler movement. And he had decided that this was going to be his course. This was going to buy him a political lifeline.

What he discovered, however, was that the Europeans were opposed to this, the Arab states were opposed to this, including his potential future allies in the Gulf. And actually, interestingly enough, the Trump administration wasn’t thrilled with it either. In part because the U.A.E. and others were telling the United States, this is a red line for us. We can’t support your peace efforts if Israel takes this step.

So quietly, Jared Kushner basically told Netanyahu, cool it. Hold off on this. Don’t do this right now. The reason that was kind of the precipitating moment is, for the U.A.E. and the other Gulf Arab states, this was an unacceptable step. They simply could not countenance the idea of Israel doing this. But the fact of Netanyahu’s being so provocative in saying he was going to do this actually presented the U.A.E. with an opening. It gave them an opening to make Israel an offer. And in fact, Yousef Otaiba, our character from the dinner at Cafe Milano, is the guy who delivers the message.

In June, he writes a letter that’s published by a leading Hebrew language newspaper in Israel, in which he basically tells the Israeli government that their choice is annexation or normalization. He basically says, and I quote, “Israel’s decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal. Annexation is a misguided provocation of another order.” So he’s sort of laying down a red line. If you guys do this, forget about ever having normalized relations with the U.A.E. And that is a really important moment in this story. Because it clarifies the choice for the Israeli government. It also clarifies the choice and the opportunity for the Trump administration.

Because the next thing that happens is that the Trump administration gets involved in trying to broker precisely this quid pro quo, this deal, this trade off. And without the letter, it’s unlikely this ever would have happened, at least not now.

michael barbaro

It sounds like you’re saying that somewhat counterintuitively because, at least publicly, Netanyahu is pushing for the annexation of the West Bank — that maybe secretly he was grateful to have an opportunity to stop doing it.

mark landler

That’s right. It was almost an escape hatch, if you think about it. He gets out of a situation that increasingly looked like it had no reasonable escape. And in so doing, he actually gives himself a very different kind of legacy. Netanyahu was on his way to being remembered as a long-serving leader who presided over a period of frustration and lack of progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Instead, he will now be remembered as the Israeli prime minister who actually won normalization of relations with a key Gulf Arab country, a very different outcome than one would have predicted for him even a week ago.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Mark, what does this deal mean for the Palestinians? Not annexing the West Bank would seem to represent a kind of achievement for the Palestinians. But it really just brings the situation back to where it was before Netanyahu announced that aggressive move, that annexation of the West Bank.

mark landler

Well, it’s a very mixed bag for the Palestinians. Because you’re right. They are avoiding what would be a disastrous outcome, which is losing up to 30 percent of the territory that would have one day been part of a Palestinian state.

On the other hand, what the symbolism of this deal is is really very bad for the Palestinians. Because what it shows is that the U.A.E. is willing to normalize relations with Israel in the absence of a deal that would give the Palestinians statehood. That had always been the prerequisite for recognition of Israel by many of these Arab states, that it had to have made a deal with the Palestinians. It had to have embraced the two-state solution. It has not embraced the two-state state solution. Indeed, the two state solution looks further away than ever. And yet, the U.A.E. has gone ahead and done this deal.

So what it says, in very blunt terms, is that the Arab states have other priorities on their agenda that are bigger than defending the interests of the Palestinians. And so from the Palestinians’ point of view, it is a betrayal. It’s a loss of leverage. This was after all the great point of leverage that the Palestinians had with Israel. If Israel ever wanted to be recognized by its neighbors, it needed to work out a deal with the Palestinians. Now it’s clear it doesn’t have to do that anymore. And it makes their situation, if possible, more hopeless than ever.

michael barbaro

So finally, Mark, what is the motivation of the Trump administration, which as you said, has nudged this along during the past 18 months or so since that dinner. Why have they wanted this?

mark landler

Well, I’d say there’s a number of reasons. Start with the fact that their Middle East peace efforts, which are led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have stalled. So this was a way to jump start a process that had really become paralyzed.

Secondly, the Trump administration has spent three years cultivating these Gulf Arab countries — not just the United Arab Emirates, but of course the Saudis. They do this, in part, for financial reasons. It’s a chance to sell a great deal of very expensive advanced weaponry. It would allow the U.A.E. to purchase higher grade, more sophisticated weapons from the United States because many of those weapons are restricted to countries that recognize Israel. So it actually creates yet another market for high end American weapons. So that’s one more reason.

And a third reason, frankly, is perhaps the simplest of all. President Trump is lagging in the polls. He’s facing the voters in two months. He needs a couple of big wins. And this is a big win. Presidents like to make history in the Middle East. And this gave the president a chance to do that at a time when not much else seems to be going well for him. So it’s a complicated series of factors — economic, political, and strategic.

michael barbaro

So Mark, as someone who has been covering diplomacy for a really long time and has seen these other big symbolic events along the way when it comes to Israel and its former enemies —

archived recording (bill clinton)

On behalf of the United States and Russia, co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process, welcome to this great occasion of history and hope.

michael barbaro

— I think about, for example, the famous handshake at the White House between Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin.

archived recording

[CHEERING]

michael barbaro

Bill Clinton brought them together.

archived recording (bill clinton)

Today the leadership of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization will sign a declaration of principles on interim Palestinian self-government. It charts a course toward reconciliation.

michael barbaro

Because sometimes these events have mattered. Sometimes they have very quickly dissolved. What is the significance of this one, in your mind? Because I’m mindful that it’s been a number of years since that handshake and since one of these moments that seem to really matter.

mark landler

So unlike the handshake between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the White House, or the Camp David accord between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel in 1978, this deal feels more pragmatic, less perhaps historic and symbolic, more a product of calculation than of making history. Each side getting something, each side giving up something. A deal that was sort of cooked up out of bad circumstances.

And yet this one, I think, will matter, because it isn’t just about the U.A.E. and Israel — two relatively small, if very important countries. It’s a deal that actually changes the dynamic throughout the entire region in some of the ways we’ve discussed. It makes matters considerably worse for the Palestinians. But it also makes matters considerably worse for the Iranians. Remember, the point behind this is developing a united front against Iran. And for Iran to face the Gulf states and Israel in any semblance of unity is a much bigger problem for them than if the Arabs and the Israelis hated each other. So I think it changes the equation there.

Also, by removing the prospect of annexation, at least for now, it actually removes a huge potential bone of contention between Israel and the West — not just the Europeans, but the United States. So it’s one of these deals that on the face of it seems perhaps not as momentous as some of the other ones we’ve talked about.

But in terms of its knock-on effects, it really is quite significant. It has the potential to realign the region. People who follow Middle East politics always feel like to talk about forces that realign the region, that change the underlying dynamics. And the truth is, many events don’t really do that in the end. This one may actually have the potential to do it.

[music]
michael barbaro

Mark, I know that you had spoken to this ambassador from the U.A.E. you had dinner with and sought his permission to tell us this story, for which we are grateful. I wonder what else he said to you about this deal.

mark landler

Well, beyond giving me permission to talk about it, I basically sent him a note saying, you know, it looks like you might be going to Jerusalem after all, an outcome that back in that restaurant in Georgetown in 2018 seemed very far away.

michael barbaro

Mark, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

mark landler

Thank you, Michael.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

archived recording

(SINGING “THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER“) O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light. What so proudly —

michael barbaro

Here’s what else you need to know today. During the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee — a virtual event because of the pandemic — a series of high profile Republicans, including former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and former presidential candidate John Kasich, endorsed Joe Biden, saying that President Trump had let down the country and their party.

archived recording (john kasich)

Joe Biden is a man for our times, times that call for all of us to take off our partisan hats and put our nation first for ourselves and, of course, for our children.

michael barbaro

Later in the evening, Senator Bernie Sanders, Biden’s former rival for the Democratic nomination, pleaded with his supporters from 2016 and 2020 to throw their support behind Biden.

archived recording (bernie sanders)

My friends, I say to you, to everyone who supported other candidates in the primary, and to those who may have voted for Donald Trump in the last election, the future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together, defeat Donald Trump, and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president. My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.

michael barbaro

In the night’s keynote speech, former First Lady Michelle Obama called for a new era of empathy and character, and said that restoring both would require removing Donald Trump from office.

archived recording (michelle obama)

So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job. But he is clearly in over his head. He can not meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

michael barbaro

It was the first of four nights in which Democrats hope to both win over moderates uneasy with President Trump and energize liberals who might be unenthusiastic about Biden.

That’s it for “The Daily.” Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

The delicacy of the accord was on display after the announcement as the Emiratis maintained that it was contingent on Israel living up to its pledge to forgo annexation even as Mr. Netanyahu emphasized that it was only a temporary pause in deference to Mr. Trump. But both sides were playing to domestic constituencies to minimize concessions and officials expressed optimism that the deal would hold.

“This is a historic evening,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a news conference. “Today, a new era began in the relations of the state of Israel with the Arab world.” President Reuven Rivlin of Israel invited Prince Mohammed to visit Jerusalem, while the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality building was illuminated with the flags of Israel and the Emirates.

In a statement, Prince Mohammed emphasized the annexation suspension. “During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” he wrote. “The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”

Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The rapprochement underscored the shifting political dynamics of a region where Sunni Arab states increasingly see Iran as a greater enemy than Israel and are less willing to condition relations on a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, has invested in clandestine relations with the Gulf States for years, and its director, Yossi Cohen, has met frequently with counterparts in the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt, according to three intelligence officials.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman hosted Mr. Netanyahu for a state visit in 2018 that Mr. Cohen helped broker, even though the two nations have no diplomatic relations, and the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain hosted a White House-led conference last year meant to kick off Mr. Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Those two Gulf States could follow the Emirates in formalizing relations with Israel, but the big player remains Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s richest country and caretaker of the Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina. Analysts said they suspected that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, would like to take such a step but will refrain given conservative elements in his country.

“There is a new elite in Saudi Arabia that would wish to do the same, but they don’t have the same freedom of movement that a country like the Emirates has,” said Yasmine Farouk, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

When the Emirates began contemplating establishing formal relations a year ago, an adviser to Prince Mohammed counseled him that the keys would be to treat Israelis like equal neighbors and legitimate inhabitants of the Middle East, and therefore emphasize peace, but to make sure to ask for something in return on behalf of the Palestinians, a formula that ultimately informed its approach.

Mr. Cohen has made several secret trips in the past year to the Emirates seeking to enhance cooperation, and the outbreak of the coronavirus created an additional opening. The Mossad took responsibility for procurement of medical equipment that Israel lacked, and shipments arrived on secret flights from the Emirates.

A team to set up a lab was on the first public direct flight to Israel from the Emirates, although a plan to publicly declare cooperation in the battle against the pandemic in June proved too much too soon, as the Emirati government distanced itself shortly after Mr. Netanyahu announced it.

The impetus for Thursday’s agreement, however, can be traced back to around the same time, when Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirates’ ambassador to the United States who has worked closely with the Trump administration, wrote an op-ed article in Israel’s popular Yediot Ahronot newspaper appealing directly to Israelis, in Hebrew, not to annex occupied territory.

“Annexation will definitely, and immediately, reverse all of the Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the United Arab Emirates,” Mr. al-Otaiba wrote at the time. The headline boiled it down to a clear trade-off: “It’s Either Annexation or Normalization.”

Mr. Kushner said that proved a turning point. “After that, we started a discussion with U.A.E. saying maybe this is something we can do,” he said. The Emiratis were open to the idea, he said, and so he then approached the Israelis, who likewise expressed a willingness to consider it. Talks then proceeded through Mr. Kushner and the Americans.

The negotiations were closely held in the White House, with only a limited number of officials aware. Meetings and Thursday’s phone call were either omitted from schedules or listed with obscure language, according to an administration official. Mr. Kushner said a preliminary agreement was reached a week ago and final details completed on Wednesday for what was called “the Abraham accord,” after the figure common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the agreement was “a win-win-win-lose” in that it provided diplomatic victories for the Emirates, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump. “The big losers are the Palestinians who have watched the Arab world move closer to Israel seemingly rewarding Netanyahu for ignoring the Palestinians and undermining Palestinians interests,” he said.

Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, argued that the deal was actually overhyped by all sides. “UAE was already normalizing relations & the annexation plan was already postponed,” he wrote on Twitter. “No one is a winner in this despite the hoopla that we will hear about for some time. UAE broke the Arab peace plan without getting anything of worth.”

In Israel, the development came at a perilous moment for Mr. Netanyahu, who is leading a fragile, fractious coalition government and faces trial on corruption charges. His annexation promise, made repeatedly throughout three recent elections, had left him in a box after Mr. Kushner opposed his moving forward without working through Mr. Trump’s official peace plan. But shortly after the agreement on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu and his domestic rivals announced that they had made progress in coalition talks.

Martin S. Indyk, who served as special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under President Barack Obama, said the deal gave both Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu a way to escape a political box of their own making with the president’s stalled peace plan and the prime minister’s politically problematic annexation drive.

“It gets Trump out of the corner he was in having agreed to legitimizing the settlements and then discovering that the Arab world had a problem with that,” he said. “Now he’s got something he can claim credit for.”

And he was quick to do so. Mr. Trump surrounded himself in the Oval Office by a large delegation of aides and officials who heaped effusive praise on him, and he jokingly said the agreement should be called the “Donald J. Trump Accord.” At a later briefing, Robert C. O’Brien, the White House national security adviser, even proclaimed that the president should win the Nobel Peace Prize.

As he has repeatedly in recent days, Mr. Trump predicted that he would next strike a quick agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear agreement if he were re-elected, although there was no sign that such a reconciliation was really imminent. “If I win the election,” he said, “I will have a deal with Iran within 30 days.”

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the putative Democratic presidential nominee, congratulated both Israel and the Emirates in a statement that made no mention of Mr. Trump. He instead pointed back to his own work in the region as vice president while reminding the players of his opposition to annexation if he wins in November.

“I personally spent time with leaders of both Israel and the U.A.E. during our administration building the case for cooperation and broader engagement and the benefits it could deliver to both nations, and I am gratified by today’s announcement,” Mr. Biden said.

Palestinian leaders have long opposed normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states because it would legitimize the continuing occupation.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, called Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and said that the agreement was “not binding on the Palestinian people.” Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, called it “dangerous and tantamount to a free reward for the Israeli occupation for its crimes and violations at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Credit…Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA, via Shutterstock

On the other side, some on the Israeli right expressed anger at Mr. Netanyahu for breaking his annexation promise. In a televised news conference, he said annexation had been only “temporarily” postponed. “Just as I brought peace with an Arab country,” Mr. Netanyahu declared, “I will bring sovereignty.”

Emirati representatives said that they expected Israel to characterize the halt to annexation as only a “pause,” but that in practical terms, the deal would most likely postpone the prospect of such a move until after the American presidential election. That might bring in an administration in Washington more opposed to the idea and could amount to an indefinite cancellation, the Emiratis argued.

“Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem each had their own good reasons for finding a way to open the door to formal relations, but there’s no question the announcement today is also a boon to Donald Trump,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official. Even so, she said, both nations seemed to be positioning themselves for a possible Biden victory, as well, by taking issues off the table. “It seems both Bibi and MbZ,” she said, using nicknames for the Israeli an Emirati leaders, “have placed their bets for November.”

Reporting was contributed by Ben Hubbard, Michael LaForgia, Mark Landler and Adam Rasgon.

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next Post

Lyft will suspend its ride-hailing service in California

Pin it Email https://smartrobotics.com.ng/2020/08/20/israel-and-united-arab-emirates-strike-major-diplomatic-agreement/#MTI2NTY4MzQ3OC5 Lyft will suspend its ride-hailing operations in California at 11:59PM PT on August 20th, the company confirmed in a blog post. Along with Uber, the company was ordered by a state judge to employ its drivers rather than classify them as independent contractors. But Lyft is […]

Subscribe US Now

WhatsApp chat