Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and officials from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a US-sponsored deal to normalise diplomatic relations in Washington on Tuesday.
The deal, dubbed by US President Donald Trump as the Abraham Accords, has been denounced by Palestinians as an Arab betrayal of their struggle against Israeli occupation.
At a White House ceremony on Tuesday, Trump promoted the deal as the “dawn of a new Middle East”.
“It’s a very important day for the world; it’s a very important day for peace,” Trump said.
Netanyahu said Israel is filled with “profound gratitude” for the normalisation deal, heaping praise on Trump.
‘This will be another date to add to the calendar of Palestinian misery’
– Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh
“You have unequivocally stood by Israel’s side. You have boldly confronted the tyrants of Tehran. You have proposed a realistic vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and you have successfully brokered the historic peace that we are signing today,” the Israeli prime minister said.
Netanyahu stressed that peace would be achieved through Israeli power.
“I have devoted my life to securing Israel’s place among the nations to ensure the future of the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
“To accomplish that goal, I work to make Israel strong, very strong – for history has taught us that strength brings security; strength brings allies… Ultimately, strength brings peace.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump handed Netanyahu a symbolic key to the White House, calling the Israeli premier an “amazing leader”
Netanyahu’s political opponents in Israel had criticised him for not revealing the full details of the agreement before the ceremony.
A source inside the Israeli delegation told reporters that the two sides had agreed to not reveal all the details before the agreement was signed due to the “sensitivity of the wording”.
However, the agreement will be presented to the Israeli cabinet and parliament for ratification before it takes effect, the source said.
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan delivered a speech in Arabic at the ceremony on Tuesday, lauding Trump and Netanyahu.
“Your excellency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you for choosing peace, and for halting the annexation of Palestinian territories – a decision that reinforces our shared will to achieve a better future for generations to come,” Nahyan said.
Israel had agreed to suspend plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank as part of the deal with the UAE. But over the past weeks, Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed that annexation is still being considered.
Netanyahu was asked about the issue at a news conference with Trump earlier on Tuesday, but both leaders appeared to avoid the topic of annexation. “We don’t want to talk about that right now,” Trump said.
Nahyan had said that formal ties with Israel will allow Abu Dhabi to support Palestinians.
“This accord will enable us to continue to stand by the Palestinian people and realise their hopes for an independent state within a stable and prosperous region.”
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayan also stressed the two-state solution in a call for broader regional peace.
“A comprehensive and enduring two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be the foundation, the bedrock of such peace,” he said.
A ‘black day’ for Palestinians
Palestinians held protests against the deal across the occupied Palestinian territories on Tuesday, ahead of the official signing ceremony.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday condemned the normalisation agreements and dubbed it a “black day” for the Arab world.
“This will be another date to add to the calendar of Palestinian misery.”
Shtayyeh also said that the Palestinian Authority was reconsidering its relations with the Arab League after the UAE and Bahrain, both members, had normalised ties with Israel.
The decision came after the body voted down a Palestinian proposal condemning the UAE-Israel normalisation accord, which was announced last month.
In Washington, Palestinian rights activists also gathered near the White House to denounce the deal on Tuesday.
While Trump administration officials have suggested that Saudi Arabia would follow in the footsteps of its Gulf neighbours in normalising relations with Israel, Riyadh has said it will stand by the Arab peace initiative that conditions relations with Israel on establishing a Palestinian state.
But days after the UAE announced its deal with Israel, Riyadh agreed to allow Israeli flights over its airspace on their way to Abu Dhabi.
Less than a month after the agreement, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pressed Trump for a “fair” Palestinian solution.
Meanwhile, Qatar said on Tuesday that it would not normalise relations with Israel.
In Washington, Trump has claimed the agreements as a historic achievement brokered by his administration, weeks before the US election. At a time of domestic turmoil, racial tensions and natural disasters, analysts say the US president will use the diplomatic breakthrough to boost his reelection chances.
Hours before the ceremony, Israel’s foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi tweeted a photo of Emirati and Bahraini flags flying alongside the flags of Israel and the United States in front of the ministry of foreign affairs in Jerusalem.
“The four flags flying over the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs today,” Ashkenazi wrote.
“An historic day for Israel, UAE, Bahrain and for the entire region. Thank you President Trump for your role in creating a new reality in the Middle-East.”