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Trump presides as Israel, 2 Arab states sign historic pacts

President Donald Trump greets the Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa at the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP) — Declaring “the dawn of a new Middle East,” President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed historic diplomatic pacts with Israel and two Gulf Arab nations that he hopes will lead to a new order in the Mideast and cast him as a peacemaker at the height of his reelection campaign.

of people massed on the sun-washed South Lawn to witness the signing of
agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The
bilateral agreements formalize the normalization of the Jewish state’s
already thawing relations with the two Arab nations in line with their
common opposition to Iran and its aggression in the region.

here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from a
balcony overlooking the South Lawn. “After decades of division and
conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.”

The agreements
do not address the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the
UAE, Bahrain and other Arab countries support the Palestinians, the
Trump administration has persuaded the two countries not to let that
conflict keep them from having normal relations with Israel.

political backers are looking for the agreements to boost his standing
as a statesman with just seven weeks to go before Election Day. Until
now, foreign policy has not had a major role in a campaign dominated by
the coronavirus, racial issues and the economy. The pandemic was in the
backdrop of the White House ceremony, where there was no social
distancing and most guests didn’t wear masks.

The agreements won’t
end active wars, but supporters believe they could pave the way for a
broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement after decades of enmity and only two
previous peace deals. Skeptics, including many longtime Mideast analysts
and former officials, have expressed doubts about their impact and
lamented that they ignore the Palestinians, who have rejected them as a
stab in the back by fellow Arabs.

During the ceremony, Emirati
Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of Abu
Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, thanked Israel for “halting the
annexation of Palestinian territories,” although Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has only temporarily
suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements.

“Today, we
are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East — a
change that will send hope around the world,” al-Nahyan said.

the harshest critics have allowed that the agreements could usher in a
major shift in the region should other Arab nations, particularly Saudi
Arabia, follow suit, with implications for Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
Other Arab countries believed to be close to recognizing Israel include
Oman, Sudan and Morocco.

“We are very down the road with about five different countries,” Trump told reporters before the ceremony.

addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and
Bahrain, all three are signing a document dubbed the “Abraham Accords”
after the patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

“This day is a pivot of history,” Netanyahu said. “It heralds a new dawn of peace.”

the many challenges and hardships that we all face — despite all that,
let us pause a moment to appreciate this remarkable day.”

Palestinians have not embraced the U.S. vision. Palestinian activists
held small demonstrations Tuesday inthe West Bank and in Gaza, where
they trampled and set fire to pictures of Trump, Netanyahu and the
leaders of the UAE and Bahrain.

A poll released Tuesday found that
86% of Palestinians believe the normalization agreement with the UAE
serves only Israel’s interests and not their own. The poll, carried out
by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, was carried
out Sept. 9-12 and surveyed 1,270 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank
and Gaza. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage

Even in Israel, where the accords have received widespread
acclaim, there is concern they might result in U.S. sales of
sophisticated weaponry to the UAE and Bahrain, thus potentially
upsetting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

said he is OK with selling military aircraft to the UAE. House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi also welcomed the agreements but said she wants to learn
details, specifically what the Trump administration has told the UAE
about buying American-made F-35 aircraft and about Israel agreeing to
freeze efforts to annex portions of the West Bank.

Bahrani Foreign
Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said Bahrain would stand with the
Palestinians. “Today is a truly historic occasion,” he said. “A moment
for hope and opportunity.”

And while the UAE and Bahrain have a
history of suppressing dissent and critical public opinion, there have
been indications that the agreements are not nearly as popular or
well-received as in Israel. Neither country sent its head of state or
government to sign the deals with Netanyahu.

Bahrain’s largest
Shiite-dominated opposition group, Al-Wefaq, which the government
ordered dissolved in 2016 amid a yearslong crackdown on dissent, said
there is widespread rejection of normalization. Al-Wefaq said in a
statement that it joins other Bahrainis who reject the agreement to
normalize ties with the “Zionist entity,” and criticized the government
for crushing the public’s ability to express opinions “to obscure the
extent of discontent” at normalization.

The ceremony follows months of intricate diplomacy headed by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and the president’s envoy for international negotiations, Avi Berkowitz. On Aug. 13, the Israel-UAE deal was announced. That was followed by the first direct commercial flight between the countries, and then the Sept. 11 announcement of the Bahrain-Israel agreement.

Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.