Israel and the United Arab Emirates have announced they are establishing full diplomatic relations in a US-brokered deal that requires Israel to halt its plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians.
The historic deal reflects a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal amounts to “treason” and should be reversed. The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE was also being recalled.
The agreement makes the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full diplomatic ties with Israel. They announced it in a joint statement, saying deals between Israel and the UAE were expected in the coming weeks in such areas as tourism, direct flights and embassies.
US President Donald Trump called the deal “a truly historic moment”.
“Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates,” he told reporters in the Oval Office.
In a nationally televised news conference, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed Mr Trump’s remarks.
He said: “Today we usher in a new era of peace between Israel and the Arab world. There is a good chance we will soon see more Arab countries joining this expanding circle of peace.”
But Mr Netanyahu said the annexation plan was on “temporary hold”, appearing to contradict statements from Emirati officials who said it was off the table.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke today by telephone with US President Donald Trump and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. pic.twitter.com/hjxwciV0j3— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) August 13, 2020
Emirati officials described the deal in pragmatic terms. Anwar Gargash, a top Emirati official, said they had dealt a “death blow” to an aggressive Israeli move and hoped to help reshape the region.
“Is it perfect? Nothing is perfect in a very difficult region,” Mr Gargash added. “But I think we used our political chips right.”
Omar Ghobash, assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy, told The Associated Press: “I don’t think anything was written in stone. We are opening a door. We are hoping the Israelis will see the benefits to this step.”
“I would assume that this is political manoeuvring within a very complex political society,” he added.
Israel and the UAE do not share a border and have never fought a war. But the UAE, like most of the Arab world, long rejected diplomatic ties with Israel in the absence of a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state on lands captured by Israel in 1967.
That steadfast support for the Palestinians, however, has begun to weaken in recent years, in large part because of the shared enmity towards Iran and Iranian proxies in the region. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the day-to-day ruler of the UAE, also shares Israel’s distrust of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas militant group.
Mr Netanyahu has long boasted about fostering closer behind-the-scenes ties with Arab countries than publicly acknowledged. The UAE has made little secret of those budding ties, allowing Israeli businessmen to enter the country on foreign passports and welcoming Israeli officials and sporting figures. Next year, Israel will take part in the UAE’s delayed Expo 2020, the world’s fair being hosted by Dubai. A secret synagogue also attracts practising Jews in Dubai.