With Trump's Help, Israel And The United Arab Emirates Reach Historic Peace Deal

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DUBAI/JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump on Thursday (Aug 14) managed to pull off a rare victory for US diplomacy in the Middle East ahead of his Nov 3 re-election bid by helping to broker a deal between American allies Israel and the United Arab Emirates. 

The Gulf monarchy and Israel agreed to a normalisation of diplomatic relations. Israel also said it would suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank.

Soon after he sealed the agreement by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of his strongest supporters, and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Trump called it a "HUGE breakthrough" on Twitter and told reporters other similar Middle East deals are in the works.

"Everybody said this would be impossible," Trump said. 

"After 49 years," Trump added, "Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalise their diplomatic relations. They will exchange embassies and ambassadors, and begin cooperation across the board and on a broad range of areas, including tourism, education, healthcare, trade and security"

The chance to play global statesman was compelling for Trump, who trails in public opinion polls ahead of what is shaping up as a tough election battle against Democratic challenger Joe Biden and has struggled to contain the coronavirus pandemic that has battered the US economy.

Two of the Republican president’s primary Middle East endeavors have sputtered in the past year. The new agreement, known as the Abraham Accord, has the potential to impact both. 

Trump has been unable to negotiate what has been billed as the "deal of the century" between Israel and the Palestinians, and a peace plan he proposed in January that heavily favored the Israelis has not advanced in any significant way.

Trump, who walked away from the international nuclear deal with Iran, also has been unable to get concessions from Teheran in spite of a "maximum pressure" campaign aimed at isolating the Iranians. 

Israel and the UAE, along with the another strong regional US ally in Saudi Arabia, count Iran as an important enemy, bolstering their joint opposition to Teheran. 

Brian Hook, the US State Department’s lead official on Iran who will be leaving his post soon, said the new agreement amounted to a "nightmare" for Iran in its efforts against Israel in the region. 

The UAE said it would remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people, who hope to create an independent state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and that the agreement maintained the viability of a two-state solution to the longstanding Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In a tweet, the UAE's Crown Prince confirmed the deal: "During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said.

UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said  any further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory would have ended hopes for peace in the region. In an interview with Sky News Arabia after the announcement of the deal, he said the UAE had dismantled a ticking time bomb that was threatening the two state solution. 

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, asked how long Israel might suspend its annexation plan, said it was unclear but that the administration wanted to give other countries in the region a chance to seal similar agreements with Israel.  

"We’ve prioritised peace over the sovereignty movement but it’s not off the table. It’s just something that will be deferred until we give peace every single chance," he told reporters at the White House. 

The accord could be a personal boost to Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption and whose domestic popularity has dropped over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a televised address, Netanyahu said the deal would lead to “full and formal peace” with the UAE and voiced hope that other countries in the region would follow its example. It also entailed acceding to a request from Trump to “temporarily wait”on implementing his annexation pledge, he said.

“It’s an incomparably exciting moment, a historic moment for peace in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.