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White House ceremony celebrates new era for Israel, UAE, and Bahrain

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(JTA) Benjamin Netanyahu has complained for years about Arab leaders telling their people one thing in Arabic, and diplomats saying another to Western audiences in English.
by RON KAMPEAS | Sep 17, 2020

Not on Tuesday.

Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) , was on the White House lawn speaking – in Arabic – about the “innate principle” of peace, and thanking the Israeli prime minister for helping to bring it about.

If the agreements signed on Tuesday, 15 September, by leaders of the UAE, Israel, the United States, and Bahrain were historic, it was because of this: two Arab leaders were praising peace not simply as a means of ending bloodshed, the precipitate for the cold peace that Israel has had for decades with Jordan and Egypt, but as an end in itself.

“We are witnessing today a new trend that will create a better path for the Middle East,” Bin Zayed said. “This peace accord, which is a historic achievement for the United States, the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates will continue to have a positive impact as we believe that its reverberations will be reflected on the entire region.”

It was a shining moment for Netanyahu, and he was pleased to bask in the vindication.

Except, Bin Zayed clearly saw it as peace for something more than just peace.

“Thank you for choosing peace, and for halting the annexation of Palestinian territories, a decision that reinforces our shared will to achieve a better future for generations to come,” Bin Zayed said.

Netanyahu, who didn’t mention the Palestinians in his remarks, couldn’t quite shake them or their claims to territories he hopes to annex. The agreement with the UAE calls for a “just, comprehensive realistic and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

Reports were circulating that the US had provided assurances to the UAE that Israel wouldn’t move ahead with annexing parts of the West Bank until at least 2024.

The deals, released hours later by the White House, didn’t mention annexation, instead pledging co-operation in a number of areas including security, trade, tourism, the economy, education, and healthcare.

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who was present at the ceremony, said Netanyahu’s pledge to annex parts of the West Bank wasn’t moribund, but acknowledged that it was dependent on the Trump administration.

The other matter of substance that may have unnerved Netanyahu were the talks between US and UAE officials over the sale of F-35 stealth combat jets. The Israeli government is opposed to the sale. Trump made it clear he wasn’t.

The day was marked repeatedly by signals that Netanyahu owed much to Trump. He sat silently as Trump disparaged his rival in the November presidential elections, Joe Biden, as “sleepy Joe” three times, effectively becoming a prop for Trump in his re-election campaign.

For all of those concessions, there was much for Netanyahu to celebrate. The Trump administration teased some of the contents of the deals in a news release, saying the UAE, Israel, and Bahrain had “committed to the exchange of embassies and ambassadors, and to begin co-operation across a broad range of fields including education, healthcare, trade, and security”.

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