WASHINGTON: Israel normalised relations with long-time foes Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at a White House ceremony on Tuesday (Sep 15) as President Donald Trump said similar US-brokered deals were close between the Jewish state and several other nations including Saudi Arabia.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE sealed the accords establishing full diplomatic ties with a ceremony on a flag-decorated White House South Lawn.
Hundreds of guests attended the event, which Trump is hoping will boost his reelection chances in November, despite the coronavirus pandemic but there were no handshakes to cement the historic agreements.
Bahrain and the UAE are the first Arab nations to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 and Trump hailed it as a "historic day for peace in the Middle East".
"After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East," he said.
Trump said the agreements, which have been denounced as a "betrayal" by the Palestinians, "will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region".
Speaking later to reporters, he said Israel would enter into similar deals with "seven or eight or nine" other countries soon including regional power Saudi Arabia "at the right time".
Netanyahu called the day a "pivot of history" and thanked Trump for his "decisive leadership".
"It heralds a new dawn of peace," he said. "Ultimately it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all."
"To all of Israel's friends in the Middle East, those who are with us today and those who will join us tomorrow, I say as-salaam alaikum, peace unto thee, shalom," Netanyahu said.
Neither Trump nor Netanyahu made any reference to the Palestinians during their remarks, and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said Tuesday that only an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories can bring peace to the Middle East.
"Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends," Abbas said.
As the accords were being signed in Washington, rockets were fired into Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Two people were slightly wounded.
For the Mideast, the deals mark a distinct shift in a decades-old status quo where Arab countries have tried to maintain unity against Israel over its treatment of the stateless Palestinians.
Both the UAE and Bahrain foreign ministers made a point of mentioning the Palestinians in their remarks before the signing ceremony.
"Thank you for choosing peace and halting the annexation of Palestinian territories," UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan told Netanyahu. "I stand here today to extend a hand of peace."
Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said a "just, comprehensive and enduring two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict" would be the "bedrock" for lasting Middle East peace
Trump, speaking to Fox News ahead of the ceremony, said the agreements would put pressure on the Palestinians to also negotiate or face being "left out in the cold."
"The Palestinians will ultimately come in too," he said.
"And you're going to have peace in the Middle East without being stupid and shooting everybody, and killing everybody, and having blood all over the sand."
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