by Jonah Mandel
Agence France Presse
World leaders voiced hope Friday that a historic deal between the UAE and Israel could kickstart moribund Middle East peace talks, even as the Palestinians and some of their allies denounced the move to normalise ties as a betrayal of their cause.
Announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, it is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raised the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.
The deal sees Israel pledge to suspend its planned annexation of Palestinian lands, a concession welcomed by European and some pro-Western Arab governments as a boost for hopes of peace.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Israel was not abandoning its plans to one day annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank.
News of the agreement was broken by Trump, in a tweet hailing a “HUGE breakthrough”.
He said leaders from the two countries would sign the deal at the White House in around three weeks, evoking memories of previous US-mediated Middle East accords. It could also help boost Trump’s relection hopes in the November US polls.
The Palestinian leadership rejected the deal as a “betrayal” of their cause, saying they would withdraw their ambassador from the Emirates.
Following Friday prayers in Jerusalem, worshippers outside the Al-Aqsa mosque walked on pictures of UAE strongman Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, people set fire to pictures of Sheikh Mohamed, Netanyahu and Trump.
In Ramallah, office worker Jihad Hussein said: “The Palestinian people have been stabbed in the back by the Emirates leadership.”
– ‘Full normalization’ –
Establishing diplomatic ties between Israel and Washington’s Middle East allies, including the oil-rich Gulf monarchies, has been central to Trump’s regional strategy to contain Iran, also an arch-foe of Israel.
Tehran on Friday condemned the deal as an act of “strategic stupidity” that would only strengthen the Iranian-backed “axis of resistance”.
Under the deal, Israel and the UAE “agreed to the full normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates”, according to a joint statement Thursday evening by Trump, Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohamed.
They added that Israel would “suspend declaring sovereignty” over occupied Palestinian West Bank areas — an idea proposed in Trump’s controversial peace plan unveiled earlier this year.
Sheikh Mohamed stressed in a tweet that an agreement has been “reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories”.
But Netanyahu insisted afterwards that he had only agreed to delay, not cancel, the annexations. The plans remained “on the table”, he said.
On Friday the prime minister appointed his national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat to lead the negotiations with the Emiratis.
US Gulf allies Bahrain and Oman welcomed the annexation deal, and Egypt, the only other Arab country to have a formal peace treaty with Israel, praised a deal that would scrap annexation.
Thanking them Netanyahu said the “peace treaty” with the UAE “is expanding the circle of peace”.
The European Union said normalisation would benefit both Israel and the UAE, but foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali stressed the bloc’s commitment to a two-state solution.
“We are, of course, ready to work on the resumption of the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a longtime critic of Israel and frequently at odds with western powers, threatened to suspend diplomatic relations with the UAE or withdraw Ankara’s ambassador.
There was no immediate word from regional heavyweight and Emirati ally Saudi Arabia, who sponsored in 2002 a peace plan calling for Israel’s complete withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace and the full normalisation of ties with all Arab nations.
“My guess is that King Salman will be at least a little annoyed, since this breaks the Arab consensus that the Arab Peace Initiative is the guiding basis for all major diplomacy with Israel,” said Hussein Ibish, an analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
– Annexation relief –
The controversial Trump plan, unveiled in January, had offered a path for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across the West Bank, communities considered illegal under international law.
The Palestinians had rejected the plan outright as biased and untenable, as did Israel’s Arab neighbours, and it sparked fears of more violence.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said he hoped Israel’s suspension of annexations under the plan could help realise a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Annexation would “effectively close the door” on negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and “destroy the prospect” of a viable Palestinian state, he said.
© Agence France-Presse