President Trump declared the “dawn of a new Middle East” as he oversaw the signing of pacts between Israel and two Arab nations, an event he hopes will pave the way for increased stability in a volatile region and cast him as a peacemaker ahead of November’s election.
Hundreds of diplomats, lawmakers, and officials gathered on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday afternoon to witness the normalizing of relations between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates — the first time in more than 25 years that Arab nations have signed agreements with Israel.
However, Palestinian officials have denounced the so-called Abraham Accords as a stab in the back by fellow Arab nations.
Speaking from the White House balcony, Trump said more nations would follow in signing deals.
“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” he said. “Thanks to the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity.”
Minutes later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed accords with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Abdullatif al Zayani.
COVID-19 restrictions deprived Trump of the chance for any made-for-TV handshake moments.
Even so, the signing marks a diplomatic breakthrough for Trump, who touted his deal-making abilities during his 2016 run for the White House only to struggle once in office with seemingly intractable standoffs with everyone from Democrats in Congress to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Skeptics point out that the Abraham Accords are not technically peace deals and worry that they do little to advance regional stability when Palestinians are further isolated. To illustrate the point, protesters gathered in the West Bank and Gaza, where they burned pictures of Trump and Netanyahu.
The agreements follow months of negotiations led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and lay a framework for diplomatic, economic, and other ties between the three nations. At the same time, the accords reflect shared concern among America’s allies about the rise of Iran and its development of ballistic missiles.
“I really believe Iran wants to make a deal,” said Trump during a meeting in the Oval Office with Netanyahu in which he presented the Israeli leader with a gold key. “I want Iran to be a great country.”
Before sitting to sign the deals, Netanyahu said: “This day is a pivot of history. It heralds a new dawn for peace.”
The Israeli-American Council described the deals as “historic.”
“Both Israel and the US administration have expressed their hope and desire for peace with additional countries in the region and the IAC calls on other Arab countries to follow suit,” it said in a statement. “These historic agreements are proof that the path towards a more prosperous Middle East is through recognition and cooperation rather than through isolation and extremism.”
Others urge caution and say real progress would require other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, to come on board.
Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, said the agreements amounted to a public ratification of existing contacts rather than a reshaping of the troubled region’s security environment.
“This will generate change in business-to-business contacts. That’s the big thing,” he said. “As many, many people have said, it is a misnomer to call them peace agreements. These countries weren’t at war, and it’s silly to think of them in terms of the way the Egypt-Israel peace treaty or Jordan peace treaty were described.”