US President Donald Trump has hailed the “beginning of a new Middle East” amid Israel’s milestone agreements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
Sir. Trump spoke as the two Gulf states signed agreements that fully normalized their relationship with Israel.
The three countries hailed the agreements as historic, as did Mr Trump, whose administration helped mediate them.
The Gulf states are just the third and fourth Arab country to recognize Israel since its founding in 1948.
Sir. Trump hopes other countries follow suit, but the Palestinians have urged them not to do so while their conflict remains unresolved.
For decades, most Arab states have boycotted Israel, insisting that they will only establish ties after Israel’s dispute with the Palestinian was settled.
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“After decades of division and conflict, we are marking the beginning of a new Middle East,” Mr Trump told a hundred crowds gathered at the White House on Tuesday.
“We are here this afternoon to change the course of history,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the agreements, saying: “This day is a turning point in history; it heralds a new dawn of peace.”
But Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said only an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories could bring peace to the Middle East.
“Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends,” he said in a statement following the signing of the agreements, reports the AFP news agency.
The Israeli army said two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel while the ceremony was in progress.
Why are these agreements hailed as ‘historic’?
Prior to the UAE and Bahrain, the only other Arab countries in the Middle East that officially recognized Israel, Egypt and Jordan signed peace agreements in 1978 and 1994, respectively.
Mauritania, a member of the Arab League in northwestern Africa, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999, but severed ties in 2010.
All eyes will be on whether other countries in the region are following suit, especially Saudi Arabia. So far, the Saudis have signaled that they are not ready.
The agreements are also likely to establish new security relations in a region where many of the Arab Gulf states share with the Israelis a common adversary in Iran.
A significant achievement
Analysis by Gary O’Donoghue, Washington correspondent
These agreements represent Trump’s most significant diplomatic achievement.
Persuading two Arab states to participate in this kind of rapprochement with Israel – without a solution to the Palestinian question – marks an important step for a pan-Arab unity.
The specific details of the agreements are not yet public, but there will be embassies, commercial offers and the opening of travel links between the countries.
Sir. Trump even suggested that five other Arab states were “far down” toward completing similar arrangements.
But the agreements are condemned by the Palestinian leadership as a “black day” for the region. On-the-spot developments in the occupied West Bank and Gaza could still derail these new conditions.
Why have Palestinians condemned the agreements?
The Palestinians have said the agreements are dangerous betrayals.
They believe that the Gulf movements’ movements override a promise by Arab states not to embrace ties with Israel until the Palestinian state is achieved.
The United Arab Emirates has said that progress with the Palestinian state is key and that their agreement included a promise from Israel to “suspend” its controversial plan to annex important parts of the occupied West Bank that was allocated to it by President Trump under the Middle East peace plan. he revealed in January.
The Palestinians rejected Mr Trump’s proposal as biased towards Israel, warning that annexation would destroy their hopes of a viable future independent state and violate international law – an attitude supported by much of the international community.
The UAE’s foreign affairs minister told the BBC it had noticed an “opportunity” when Mr Netanyahu signaled he would continue with the annexation earlier this year.
“Everyone was concerned about the annexation of Palestinian lands, which was a real threat to the viability of the two-state solution,” said Anwar Gargash.
“And I think this form brought our plans forward and gave us a reason, a clear reason and a clear rationale why a decision that we would have made in 2021 or 2022 should be made now.”
Sir. Gargash said he did not think Netanyahu or another Israeli leader would likely give up the promise to suspend the annexation plans.
The United Arab Emirates has called on the Palestinian leadership to use this moment to reorganize its approach and prepare to engage again in productive talks with Israel.
In a statement issued after attending the White House ceremony, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the agreements were “a massive and welcome opportunity to revise the region’s policies”.
He said he understood Palestinian objections, but that “over time, the Palestinian people will understand that it is only by changing a radically changed strategy that the legitimate hopes of a viable Palestinian state can be realized.”
What is the background?
There is a background to the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran in these diplomatic moves.
The decades-old feud between them is exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main branches of Islam – Iran is largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are both Saudi allies.
Saudi Arabia’s response will be closely monitored. There are no indications yet, it is ready to follow Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Last month saw the first official flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates, which was considered an important step in the normalization of relations.
President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who was on the plane, described the UAE deal as “the ability to change the entire course of the Middle East.”