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UAE, Israel to establish full diplomatic ties

(AP) — 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 historic deal delivered a
key foreign policy victory to 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 spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal amounts to “treason,” and should be reversed.

agreement makes the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan,
to have full diplomatic ties with Israel. They announced it in a joint
statement, saying deals between Israel and the UAE were expected in the
coming weeks in such areas as tourism, direct flights and embassies.

Trump called the deal “a truly historic moment.”

that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries
will follow the United Arab Emirates,” he told reporters in the Oval

In a nationally televised news conference, Netanyahu echoed Trump’s remarks.

we usher in a new era of peace between Israel and the Arab world,” he
said. “There is a good chance we will soon see more Arab countries
joining this expanding circle of peace.”

But Netanyahu said the
annexation plan was on “temporary hold,” appearing to contradict
statements from Emirati officials who said it was off the table.

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 added. “But I think we used our political chips right.”

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

“I would assume that this is political maneuvering within a very complex political society,” he added.

and the UAE do not share a border and have never fought a war. But the
UAE, like most of the Arab world, long rejected diplomatic ties with
Israel in the absence of a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state
on lands captured by Israel in 1967.

That steadfast support for
the Palestinians, however, has begun to weaken in recent years, in large
part because of the shared enmity toward Iran and Iranian proxies in
the region. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the day-to-day
ruler of the UAE, also shares Israel’s distrust of Islamist groups like
the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas militant group.

has long boasted about fostering closer behind-the-scenes ties with
Arab countries than publicly acknowledged. The UAE has made little
secret of those budding ties, allowing Israeli businessmen to enter the
country on foreign passports and welcoming Israeli officials and
sporting figures. Next year, Israel will take part in the UAE’s delayed
Expo 2020, the world’s fair being hosted by Dubai. A secret synagogue
also draws practicing Jews in Dubai.

Still, the timing of the deal was unexpected, and perhaps tied to the upcoming U.S. election.

Trump, it gave an important boost to a president trailing in opinion
polls and facing heavy criticism for his handling of the coronavirus
crisis. It was also a rare achievement for his Mideast team, led by
adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose Mideast plan has made little
headway since it was unveiled early this year.

Israel and the UAE
are among Trump’s few close international allies, and Thursday’s deal
may have been seen as an election gift.

U.S.-Israeli author Joel
Rosenberg, who met with the crown prince in 2018 alongside fellow
evangelical Christians, said the announcement could influence religious
voters who may “struggle to decide” between Trump and presumptive
Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Thursday’s agreement offers “a feel
that this is historic” and a change for Trump to “have a series of big
moments in the months ahead.”

In a statement, Biden praised Israel for freezing the annexation plan.

United Arab Emirates and Israel have pointed a path toward a more
peaceful, stable Middle East,” he said, adding that a Biden presidency
“will seek to build on this progress.”

Netanyahu chalked up a
diplomatic victory at a time when his shaky coalition government has
been plagued by infighting and faces the possibility of early elections.
He also faces a corruption trial over charges stemming from a series of

But even his rivals praised the deal.

has seen his popularity plummet as the country grapples with a renewed
coronavirus outbreak, mass street protests and skyrocketing unemployment
as the result of earlier lockdown measures.

For the UAE, home to
skyscraper-studded Dubai and the rolling, oil-rich sand dunes of Abu
Dhabi, it further burnishes its international campaign to be seen as a
beacon of tolerance in the Middle East despite being governed by
autocratic rulers. It also removes the stigma of recognizing Israel and
could open the door for neighboring countries to follow suit.

The Gulf state of Bahrain welcomed the deal.

in all, Netanyahu paid a relatively minor price. Although the hoped-for
annexation plan is on hold, a half-century status quo remains in place
in which Israel maintains its occupation of the West Bank and continues
to expand its scores of settlements while Palestinians live in small
autonomous enclaves. Those settlements are now home to some 500,000

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured in
the 1967 Mideast war, as the heartland of a future state. The Trump
Mideast plan envisions granting Israel permanent control over 30% 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 Palestinians have rejected Trump’s Mideast plan out of hand.

the president of the Palestinian Authority, convened a meeting of his
top leadership Thursday night, and afterward his spokesman Nabil Abu
Rdeneh, said the agreement amounted to “treason.” He added that the UAE
must reverse the decision and urged other Arab countries not to follow
suit “at the expense of Palestinian rights.”

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE was being recalled.

In Gaza, Hamas called the deal a “stabbing in the back of our people.”

to head off the Palestinian criticism, UAE officials said the deal had
prevented the annexation and kept hopes alive for Palestinian statehood.

“The UAE is using its gravitas and promise of a relationship to
unscrew a time bomb that is threatening a two-state solution,” Gargash

Israeli hard-liners accused Netanyahu of missing an
opportunity to annex parts of the biblical land of Israel. Naftali
Bennett, a pro-settler lawmaker, welcomed the agreement but said it was
“tragic that Netanyahu did not seize the moment.”

insisted there was “no change” to his annexation plans. He said Israel
would “wait temporarily” at the request of Trump.

Still, Netanyahu
may be hedging his bets ahead of a possible change in the White House.
Biden has made clear that he would oppose any annexation.

Guzansky, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for
National Security Studies, said the deal would solidify Netanyahu’s
legacy among Israel’s greatest leaders.

“There’s Rabin with Jordan, Begin with Egypt,” he said, referring to the prime ministers who reached Israel’s other peace deals. “Now there’s Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s going to be in the history books.”

Lee reported from Bled, Slovenia, and Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem, Elana Schor and Aamer Madhani in Washington, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.