Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reached a landmark accord sealed by President Donald Trump on August 13 that could presage a broader realignment in the region as the two agreed to “full normalization of relations” in exchange for Israel suspending annexation of occupied West Bank territory. The deal was announced by President Trump, who told reporters in the Oval Office that he had a “very special call” with leaders from both countries, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and that they had agreed to a peace agreement. Trump also tweeted a lengthy joint statement between the US, UAE and Israel, calling the agreement to “full normalization of relations” between Israel and the UAE a “historic diplomatic breakthrough.” The UAE and Israel plan to exchange embassies and ambassadors, according to the statement. It will be the third Arab country to overtly open relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. “This deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East,” Trump said of the agreement. “It will be known as the Abraham Accord,” Trump said of the agreement, which, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said, is named for “the father of all three great faiths,” Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. “I wanted it to be called the Donald J. Trump Accord but I didn’t think the press would understand that,” Trump said to laughter.
The Trump administration maintained a tight hold on this announcement, with only a select few top State Department officials aware that this announcement was coming. Most working-level State Department officials were surprised when the announcement came, said two State Department officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. Last week when an interagency delegation traveled to the UAE, a peace agreement with Israel was not discussed, the officials said. “This is a game-changer,” one of the officials said. “Simply put, this is breaking out of the mold.” The administration was able to seize on the UAE and Israel’s common enemy of Iran as a way to achieve this agreement, one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. While this is likely to ruffle feathers in other Arab capitals, it will ultimately create solidarity among a greater number of countries confronting Iran, this official said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “historic evening,” adding: “A new era opens between Israel and the Arab world.” Speaking in Jerusalem, he said: “We are establishing full and official peace, full diplomatic agreement, with embassies, investments, commerce, tourism, direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Asked whether it was right to characterize the UAE agreement as stopping annexation, Netanyahu said: “We received a request to wait temporarily from President Trump. It is a temporary postponement. It is not removed from the table, I am telling you that.” Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid congratulated Netanyahu, adding, “This step is proof that negotiations and agreements, not unilateral steps like annexation, which would harm Israel’s security, are the way forward for our diplomatic relations.” Israel’s Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz lauded the agreement, saying it “highlights Israel’s eternal aspiration toward peace with its neighbors.”
Outside of Israel and the US, the international reaction to the peace agreement has been mixed. Whereas countries such as Egypt, China, and the UK praised the agreement as a major step forward in the Middle East peace process, other countries have expressed much criticism regarding the agreement. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the agreement as a “betrayal of Jerusalem.” The PA also announced it was immediately withdrawing its Ambassador to the UAE, according to a statement on the Palestinian news agency Wafa. Officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejected the agreement, as did the Palestinian sociopolitical group Hamas. Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesperson for Hamas, said in a statement: “We strongly condemn, in all possible ways, normalization with Israel, which is considered a stab in the back to the Palestinian cause, and will only encourage it to commit more crimes and aggressions against the Palestinian people.” Additionally, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif denounced the agreement as a “dagger that was unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims” and called upon the international community to continue to pressure Israel to end its human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.