Trump to preside over historic Arab-Israel recognition deals

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is set to preside over the signing of historic diplomatic deals between Israel and two Gulf Arab nations that could herald a dramatic shift in Middle East power dynamics.

Trump will host more than 700 guests Tuesday on the South Lawn to witness the sealing of the agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“These agreements are a huge accomplishment for the countries involved and have led to a tremendous sense of hope and optimism in the region,” said Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who led the negotiations. “Instead of focusing on past conflicts, people are now focused on creating a vibrant future filled with endless possibilities.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Emirati and Bahraini foreign ministers are to ink the deals before the crowd, which will include representatives of supporting nations from the Washington-based diplomatic corps but few other dignitaries from overseas.

In addition to the individual bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, all three will sign a trilateral document, officials said. The agreements are dubbed the “Abraham Accords” after the patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions. Trump is expected to sign as a witness.

The agreements won’t end active wars but will rather formalize the normalization of the Jewish state’s already warming relations with the two countries. And, while not addressing the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they may pave the way for a broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement after decades of enmity, a pair of wars and only two previous peace deals.

Skeptics, including many longtime Mideast observers, analysts, and former officials, have lamented that they ignore the Palestinians, who have rejected them as a stab in the back by fellow Arabs.

Nevertheless, they 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.

Tuesday’s ceremony follows months of intricate diplomacy headed by Kushner and Trump’s envoy for international negotiations, Avi Berkowitz, that first bore fruit Aug. 13 when 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.

A senior White House official said Monday that the documents had been completed and that the UAE-Israel agreement would be longer and more detailed than the Bahrain agreement because there had been more time to finalize it.

There is concern in Israel that that the signed documents 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.
Neither the UAE and Bahrain is sending 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 said there is widespread rejection in the country of normalization.

Al-Wefaq said in a statement that it joins other Bahrainis who categorically 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.

In the UAE, there has been speculation that Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, widely seen as the country’s day-to-day leader is steering clear of the signing ceremony. Emirati protocol dictates that the foreign minister and not the crown prince of a specific emirate be dispatched to represent the country in lieu of the UAE’s president.

While the UAE has said that Israel not moving ahead with plans to annex West Bank settlements is a cornerstone of the agreement, Netanyahu has insisted that annexation is only suspended and remains on the table.

—AP stories contributed to this report.

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