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President Trump says UAE to open diplomatic ties with Israel

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office Thursday, (Aug. 13). Trump said the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is at right. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday (Aug. 13) that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state.

The announcement makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state to have active diplomatic ties to Israel and only the third Arab nation to do so.

Trump tweeted a statement from the countries, acknowledging the deal. He then told reporters in the Oval Office that it was “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 said.

Ric Worshill, executive director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, praised President Trump for his work in pursuing peace in the Middle East, but said it’s too early to tell if the diplomatic relationship will extend past paper.

“I’m just looking forward to it working; I can’t say that it will,” Worshill said. “It depends upon the parties involved, whether they’re going to honor their obligations. I don’t know if this is … a ploy; I can’t tell you that.”

Worshill said it’s common for groups in the region to make treaties and arrangements and immediately break them.

“I’m just praying that it’s real, and that it’s a way to start to get some peace, start to get groups like Hezbollah and Hamas defunded and inactive,” he said.

The recognition grants a rare diplomatic win to Trump ahead of the November election, as his efforts to see an end to the war in Afghanistan have yet to come to fruition and efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians have made no headway.

For Israel, the announcement comes after years of claims from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his government enjoys closer ties to Arab nations than publicly acknowledged. Netanyahu has sought to build settlements on lands sought by the Palestinians and embraced a Trump proposal that would allow him to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank while granting Palestinians limited autonomy in other areas.

For the UAE, home to skyscraper-studded Dubai and the rolling, oil-rich sand dunes of Abu Dhabi, it further burnishes its international campaign to be seen as a beacon of tolerance in the Middle East despite being governed by autocratic rulers. It also puts the UAE out first in a regional recognition race among neighboring Gulf Arab states.

And for the Palestinians, who long have relied on Arab backing in their struggle for independence, the announcement marked both a win and setback. While Thursday’s deal halts Israeli annexation plans, the Palestinians have repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalize relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.

A joint statement from the U.S., the UAE and Israel was issued immediately after Trump’s tweet. It said delegations would meet in the coming weeks to sign deals on direct flights, security, telecommunications, energy, tourism and health care. The two countries also will partner on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East’s most dynamic societies and advanced economies will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation and forging closer people-to-people relations,” said the statement by Trump, Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the day-to-day ruler of the UAE. It said the leaders had a three-way call discussing the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the deal.

“This is a remarkable achievement for two of the world’s most forward leaning, technologically advanced states, and reflects their shared regional vision of an economically integrated region,” he said in a statement. “It also illustrates their commitment to confronting common threats, as small — but strong — nations.”

He added: “Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov.”

Among Arab nations, only Egypt and Jordan have active diplomatic ties with Israel. Egypt made a peace deal with Israel in 1979, Jordan in 1994. Mauritania recognized Israel in 1999, but later ended relations in 2009 over Israel’s war in Gaza at the time.

The UAE is a U.S.-allied federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Formed in 1971, the country, like other Arab nations at the time, did not recognize Israel over its occupation of land home to the Palestinians.

“Arab oil is not dearer than Arab blood,” the UAE’s founding ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, once pronounced when agreeing to an oil boycott over U.S. military support to Israel in the 1973 Mideast war.

Over time, the UAE maintained its stance that Israel allow the creation of a Palestinian state on land it seized in the 1967 war. But in recent years, ties between Gulf Arab nations and Israel have quietly grown, in part over their shared enmity of Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Prince Mohammed also shares Israel’s distrust of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the militant group Hamas that holds the Gaza Strip.

Abandoning its annexation plan changes little on the ground. Israel already holds overall control of the West Bank and continues to expand its settlements there, while granting the Palestinians autonomy in a series of disconnected enclaves. Some 500,000 Israelis now live in the rapidly expanding West Bank settlements.

Baptist Press senior writer Diana Chandler contributed to this report. Lee reported from Bled, Slovenia, and Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press reporter Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report. From The Associated Press. May not be republished.

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  • Jon Gambrell
  • Josef Federman
  • Matthew Lee