Edited by: Fern Sidman
Declaring “the dawn of a new Middle East,” President Donald Trump on Tuesday presided over the signing of historic diplomatic pacts between 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, according to an AP report.
Hundreds of people amassed on the sun-washed South Lawn to witness the signing of agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as was reported by AP. 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.
“We’re 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.”
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.
AP reported that Trump’s 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, as was reported by AP. 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. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has only suspended its plans to apply sovereignty on settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Yet even 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, according to the AP report.
“We are very down the road with about five different countries,” Trump told reporters before the ceremony.
In 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, as was reported by the AP.
“This day is a pivot of history,” Netanyahu said. “It heralds a new dawn of peace.”
“Despite the many challenges and hardships that we all face — despite all that, let us pause a moment to appreciate this remarkable day.”
World Israel News reported that Netanyahu continued by saying: “For thousands of years the Jewish people have prayed for peace. For decades, the Jewish State has praised for peace. That is why today we’re filled with such gratitude.”
Thanking Trump, the prime minister said, “You have unequivocally stood by Israel’s side. You have boldly confronted the tyrants of Tehran. You’re proposed a realistic vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and you have successfully brokered the historic peace that we are signing today,” as was reported by WIN.
“To all of Israel’s friends in the Middle East, those who are with us today, and those who will join us tomorrow I will say saalamu aleikum, peace unto thee,” the prime minister said.
“And you’ve already heard from the president that he’s lining up more and more countries. This was unimaginable a few years ago but with resolve, determination, a fresh look at the way peace is done, this is being achieved. Thank you, Mr. President,” Netanyahu said, according to the WIN report.
“The blessings of peace we make today will be enormous. First, because this peace will eventually expand. Second, because the great economic benefits of our partnership will be felt throughout our region… And third, because this is not only a peace between leaders. It’s a peace between peoples…”
The Palestinians have not embraced the U.S. vision. Palestinian activists held small demonstrations Tuesday in Judea and Samaria 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 Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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.
“They’re very wealthy countries for the most part … some are extraordinarily, like UAE,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” in an interview before the ceremony. “And they would like to buy some fighter jets and I personally would have no problem with it.”
Meanwhile, a politically vulnerable Netanyahu is facing questions about appearing at such a large event just days after he announced a new nationwide lockdown to fight a surge in coronavirus cases that will impose severe restrictions on movement and gatherings.
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.
In the past two weeks, President Trump has notched a string of diplomatic wins he’s highlighting with voters in the run-up to the election, but his report card on the most serious threats to U.S. national security shows an “incomplete.”
In addition to the Trump administration hosting the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House, where the two nations formally recognized Israel. Trump officials also brokered an economic cooperation agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, bitter foes in the Balkan wars. And Trump has moved to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and held U.S. talks with the Taliban, which paved the way for fragile all-Afghan peace negotiations that began last weekend.
While acknowledging that these are all positive developments, William Wechsler, director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs, said they must be weighed against a much more “negative” set of actions by the president.
Among those he cites: deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin; the president’s love-hate relationship with China; refraining from heavily punishing Saudi Arabia for the gruesome killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; and pushing U.S. relations with Europe to a low ebb.
On some of the most troublesome national security challenges facing America — nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea — Trump has failed to make deals. And the pro-Israel agreements with the UAE and Bahrain leave the far more contentious Israeli-Palestinian conflict as intractable as ever.
The White House, for its part, casts Trump’s recent flurry of foreign policy activity as evidence that long-sought initiatives are coming to fruition. It dismisses the idea he’s trying to distract voters from matters such as the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest and the struggling economy.
“He’s not running on his foreign policy,” Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner told White House reporters last week. “He’s running on his track record as the president who built the greatest economy in our country and somebody who’s going to keep Americans safe and continue to get things done for them.”
Kushner helped broker the UAE and Bahrain agreements, which the White House has labeled the most significant steps toward peace in the Middle East in more than a quarter-century.
Trump critics and experts in the region say that’s an overstatement because relations between some Arab nations and Israel already had been thawing over their common opposition to Iran and Tehran’s aggression in the Mideast.
In a related development, Tazpit Press Service reported on Tuesday that Israel’s Bank Hapoalim signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Arab Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank.
The Israeli bank stated Monday that the agreement “marks a historic first as the banks look to further cooperation ties following the establishment of financial and economic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.”
The MoU was signed by Emirates NBD’s Group CEO Shayne Nelson and Bank Hapoalim’s CEO, Dov Kotler, in the presence of other senior officials.
Emirates NBD is Dubai’s largest bank by assets and operates a significant retail, corporate and institutional franchise in the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Russia and Bahrain. It also has representative offices in China and Indonesia and provides service to 14 million customers worldwide.
Dov Kotler, CEO of Bank Hapoalim, said the agreement with a leading bank in the UAE is a breakthrough achievement that will allow Israeli clients to transact directly in the UAE and subsequently in other countries.”
“It is a great honor to be the first bank to sign such an agreement that will contribute to the establishment of the relationship between the two countries,” he added.
Shayne Nelson, Group CEO, Emirates NBD stated that the Emirati bank is “pleased to be the first Emirati Bank to sign an agreement with Bank Hapoalim, while the two countries seek to strengthen economic and commercial cooperation.”
“An agreement with one of the significant banks in Israel is expected to open up business and commercial opportunities for our customers, and will strengthen our leading position as a reliable banking partner for businesses in the MENAT region,” he added.
Israel and the UAE have already signed an MOU on cooperation in the fields of banking and finance, the first outcome of the historic meeting between the two countries in Abu Dhabi.
TPS has also reported on Tuesday yet another significant diplomatic setback to the Palestinian Authority – Qatar is refusing to grant the PA a loan that will be repaid from the tax funds collected by Israel on behalf of the PA, and has conditioned the grant of such a loan on the resumption of security coordination with Israel, various Arab and PA sources report.
As previously reported by TPS, the PA has asked Qatar to grant them a loan in exchange for the tax funds that the PA has refused to receive from Israel since it severed its ties with the Jewish state, in protest of Israel’s plan to declare sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria.
The PA asked the Qataris to view the tax money held by Israel as a guarantee to repay the loan, and the PA’s Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh recently visited Qatar and asked for a loan of $300 million but his application was denied.
The Qataris, according to various sources, are now making the loan conditional on the renewal of security coordination with Israel.
A senior PA official denied in a conversation with TPS the claim that the PA applied for a Qatari loan in exchange for the tax funds.
Arab sources point out that the Saudis have also refused to provide the PA with an “economic safety net” and also reiterated that the PA must first renew security coordination with Israel.
In recent days, senior PLO and Palestinian Authority officials have complained about their failure to obtain the “economic safety net” that the PA requested from Arab states several years ago.
The PA has asked for $ 100 million a month and now Ramallah believes that the refusal by Qatar and Saudi Arabia is due to American pressure to push the PA into the US-formulated Deal of the Century peace plan.
The PA severed its ties with Israel in May, and since then, the Authority has refused to accept the monthly taxes in the amount of NIS 650 million and a loan of NIS 800 million, which Israel approved for them to contend with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Palestinian Authority has accumulated some NIS 4.5 billion in taxes collected on its behalf by Israel, but it still refuses to accept the money. A PA source told TPS that the Authority will soon have to apply for a loan from the World Bank.
Recently, relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League have deteriorated, after it refused a Palestinian demand to condemn the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and even refused to hold an emergency discussion on the issue.
Following this, senior Palestinian Authority officials, including Saeb Erekat, spoke bluntly and even called on the Arab League’s Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit to resign.
The position of Qatar and Saudi Arabia is highlighted following the normalization of relations and the signing of peace agreements between Israel and Bahrain and the Emirates.
PA officials report an abysmal economic situation.
“The PLO funds are also being depleted following the economic crisis in the PA,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official.
According to PA sources, Saudi Arabia is outstanding in the absence of any assistance on its behalf to the Palestinian Authority and only Algeria still transfers small sums of money.
The PA even approached China for loans and recently received tens of millions of dollars from the European Union to pay salaries. Sources indicate that Saudi Arabia has until recently transferred funds to the PA’s security services.
Professional sources in the PA, including PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara, recommended to Abbas that he receive the money from Israel following what is being perceived as the “removing of the threat of annexation,” Israel’s indefinite postponement of its plans to declare sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.
However, according to sources, Abbas is still refusing to receive the funds until the publication of an official Israeli statement on the cancellation of the Deal of the Century peace plan and the annexation.
TPS also reported on Monday that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) has threatened Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa, following the announcement of the peace agreement, calling him the “Bahraini killer.”
The Revolutionary Guards said that “the ruler of Bahrain must expect painful Islamic revenge on the part of the fighters for the liberation of Jerusalem.”
In a statement to the Iranian news agency Tasnim, the Revolutionary Guards said that “those responsible for the betrayal will be targets of painful revenge on the part of the people of Bahrain.”
On Saturday night, protest rallies were held in Bahrain against the agreement.
The protest campaign in Bahrain is expanding on social media under the slogan “I am Bahraini, and I reject normalization.”
Bahraini writer Qassem Hussein wrote Sunday that most of Bahrain residents, Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and non-Arabs, stand by the residents of “Palestine” and reject the manifestations of normalization with Israel.
The population of Bahrain is 60 percent Shiite while the royal house is Sunni.
Hezbollah has also issued threats against Bahrain, and in a statement on Al-Manar TV, it promised that the response will come from “the free peoples and Palestinian resistance factions.”
In yet another develop
Several leaders and staff of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the nation’s largest pro-Israel organization, were on hand for Tuesday’s White House ceremony during which Israel signed peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
The CUFI delegation consisted of CUFI founder and Chairman Pastor John Hagee, CUFI Action Fund Chairwoman Sandra Parker, CUFI Co-Executive Director Shari Dollinger, and host of CUFI’s The Watchman on TBN Erick Stackelbeck.
“The historic agreements signed today show that peace is on the march and the so-called Arab- Israeli conflict is increasingly an anachronism. Israel is strong and flourishing, and the Arab world is coming to see the Jewish state not as a foe, but as an ally against Iran and a partner for peace and prosperity. It is my sincere hope and prayer that other Arab nations will follow the UAE and Bahrain’s lead and that the Palestinian leadership in particular will accept that peace with Israel is the only path forward,” Hagee said.
“This dramatic and historic shift in the Middle East has been made possible by strong American leadership and longstanding bipartisan support for Israel. I hope these momentous agreements serve as a reminder to our elected officials that Israel’s foremost foreign policy priority is living in peace with its neighbors,” Parker noted.
“Israel is making these inroads with its neighbors because the values upon which it is built enable a society to survive, thrive and progress. Arab leaders who wish the same for their people are coming to recognize that relations with Israel are the most logical step forward toward achieving their goals,” Dollinger added.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero, who recently presented the opening Invocation at the Republican National Convention, told the media in a statement released on Tuesday:
“Conference of Jewish Affairs congratulates President Trump and his team for brokering the historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. This is another outstanding achievement by President Trump regarding Israel and the Middle East and demonstrates our President’s unique abilities to bring to life that which has eluded other leaders. This is truly a manifestation of ‘The Art of the Deal’.
At the conclusion of the White House signing ceremony, Rabbi Spero told the Jewish Voice: “President Trump understood that the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs was the obstacle to a greater Mideast peace between Israel and her Arab/Muslim neighbors. He decided to circumvent that obstacle by having Israel establish direct peace talks with her Arab neighbors. He realized that more important than resolving the so-called ‘Palestinian issue’ was the making as a priority peace among nations in the region. The so-called ‘Palestinian issue’ is no longer at the forefront among requirements for a broad Mideast Peace.
Rabbi Spero added: “Those who have been unable to think out-of-the-box and have been tied to seven decades of tunnel vision thinking have exhibited sour grapes and cynicism in their unwillingness to congratulate the President for this unprecedented peace accomplishment. They have been unwilling to rise to the occasion and give credit where it is due.
“In addition, many of the NGOs and Europeans are disappointed that they can no longer pressure Israel to give up Jerusalem as a means for achieving broad peace in the region.
“I am certain that, if President Trump is re-elected, more Arab countries will come on board and sow diplomatic relations with Israel. If, however, a globalist Democrat wins this November, the circle of peace will stop expanding inasmuch as the globalists will revert to their decades old formula of pressuring Israel and making Israel concede to all the ill wishes of Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. But it is obvious that Fatah, the PLO, and these groups do not want peace with Israel nor will they ever recognize Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.
“Israel and the region have been fortunate in having President Trump’s vision lead the way during these last four years.”
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a frequent op-ed contributor to the Israel National News web site and the author of 18 books, (including the classic “The New Anti-Semitism”) told the Jewish Voice that the historic peace deal was, “Wonderful, terrific and in the pipeline for a while.” While she lauded the impactful significance of the new agreement in the Middle East between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, Dr. Chesler took note of the clearly tendentious coverage that the New York Times provided on the peace deal.
“The New York Times essentially buried the story in the back of the paper and flagrantly dismissed the critical importance of this deal for Middle East peace and stability in an otherwise volatile region of the world. I immediately thought of what their coverage would have looked like if this deal had been orchestrated by the Obama administration. Suffice it to say, I think it would have been heralded as the greatest deal ever made in the history of mankind and the “Grey Lady” would have spewed forth endless accolades and paeans about the sheer brilliance of Obama,” she opined.
Ronald J. Edelstein, founder and president of Ron Properties, a major real estate development company in Manhattan and president of “Concerned Christians and Jews for Trump” – a group formed to get out the vote for Trump in the battleground states in the upcoming election said, “We enthusiastically applaud President Trump, senior advisor Jared Kushner, as well as Avi Berkowitz and the rest of the White House team that worked on making this historic deal come to fruition.”
Edelstein added that “It is abundantly clear from his stellar record of accomplishments since taking office almost four years ago, that President Trump is the by far the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House, bar none. His tireless dedication to forging a true and lasting peace in the Middle East has never wavered despite the chorus of naysayers that often surround him. For that and much, much more he deserves our vote in November.”
In an op-ed piece that appeared on the Fox News web site on Friday, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center said: “President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish peaceful relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which took a big step forward with the announcement that Israel and Bahrain will establish diplomatic ties.” (AP, TPS & World Israel News)