Sat, 05 Dec 2020

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump hosted a signing ceremony at the White House Tuesday for the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al Zayani were on hand for the signing of the so-called "Abraham Accords" on the South Lawn of the White House.

The Israel-UAE deal was initially reached on August 13 between Israel and UAE, with Bahrain announcing last Friday that it will also formally recognize the Jewish state.

Gulf Arab countries had long conditioned full normalization of ties with Israel on it providing concessions and progress on the two-state solution, envisioning an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

But regional countries no longer think it's possible to use normalization with Israel as a bargaining chip to achieve the two-state solution, says Will Todman, associate fellow in the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Todman says the accord also reflects growing regional concerns about Iran and Turkey.

"Arab Gulf States and Israel have more in common in terms of their opposition to Iran than they have in opposition in relation to the fact that their views on Palestinian aspirations are stated," Todman said. "I think that's an important geopolitical shift."

Palestinians condemn

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the Abraham Accords, calling it "a black day in the history of Arab nations."

Dana El Kurd of the Palestinian Policy Network think tank Al-Shabaka says the normalization deal between Israel and Bahrain is further evidence that Arab governments are abandoning the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, without receiving "anything tangible related to the Palestinian cause or statehood project."

Under the deal with with the UAE, Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to halt plans to annex portions of the West Bank. But El Kurd says the annexation suspension means nothing on the ground.

"Annexation and the theft of Palestinian land continues unabated, as it did before the Israeli government pointed to a date in the calendar as 'annexation' day and will continue to do so after," she says.

The Trump administration is touting the deals between Israel, UAE and Bahrain as key foreign policy victories with just two months remaining before the November 3 U.S. presidential election.

While foreign policy has not been a major election issue, the future of Israel matters to a key group of Trump supporters - Evangelical Christians, who made up about a third of his supporters in 2016.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's Democratic opponent, said he supports more countries normalizing relations with Israel in response to a recent VOA question, but also said he believes "that Israel has to be prepared to work toward a genuine two-state solution" with the Palestinians.

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