Trump to preside over signing ceremony between Israel and Arab states at the White House

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Alexander Drago Reuters

President Trump welcomes United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan at the White House, Sept. 15, 2020.

President Trump will preside over a White House signing ceremony Tuesday in which Israel will establish formal ties with two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in what Trump calls the flowering of his Middle East peace plan.

The agreement, called the Abraham Accord in honor of the three Abrahamic religions rooted in what is now Israel and surrounding lands, lays the ground for diplomatic, economic and other ties between Israel and two Persian Gulf neighbors.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend, but the UAE and Bahrain chose to send their foreign ministers rather than heads of state or government. That, along with precautions against the spread of the coronavirus, will deny Trump the chance to fully re-create the historic group handshakes that were the symbolic capstone of past White House peace ceremonies.

Nonetheless, the agreement is historic on its own. The last Arab state to make peace with Israel was Jordan, in 1994. Egypt was the first, in 1979. The agreement is also significant for relegating the Palestinians to the sidelines. Palestinian leaders have rejected the Trump peace efforts for three years and have called the two Arab nations traitors to their cause.

[Israel-UAE deal shows how the very notion of Middle East peace has shifted under Trump]

Neither UAE nor Bahrain is at war with Israel, so the document is not a peace treaty in the formal sense. But until now, both Persian Gulf states had officially considered Israel to be illegitimate.

Arab states in the Persian Gulf have edged closer to Israel over the past decade, largely in response to a shared desire to blunt Iranian influence in the region.

Trump and representatives of all three nations will sign the document in a large celebration on the White House South Lawn. The UAE and Bahrain will also sign separate bilateral agreements with Israel.

A Trump administration official, briefing reporters Monday, declined to spell out what those documents would say, adding that the texts would not be available until sometime after the White House ceremony.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the White House, although the official himself said he did not see why that was necessary.

The White House sent out hundreds of invitations, and far more guests are expected than officially allowed under the District of Columbia’s coronavirus protocols. As with political events at the White House during the Republican National Convention last month, the Trump administration does not consider itself bound by those rules.

[Inside the secret-not-secret courtship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates]

Israel has seen coronavirus cases spike in the late summer, and Netanyahu’s management of the pandemic prompted protesters to chant “Your time is up!” outside his home last month. It was some of the fiercest criticism he has faced in more than a decade in office.

Guests at the White House ceremony were encouraged to wear masks, but they will not be required, the senior administration official said.

“But, you know, the Israelis and the Emiratis and Bahrainis are all taking it seriously. I think when they got off the plane, they were wearing masks,” the official said.

“But, ultimately, it’s not going to be required, and it will be on the South Lawn, which is obviously a pretty vast space.”

Mohammed Salem

Reuters

Pictures depicting President Trump, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are burned by Palestinians during a protest against the United Arab Emirates’ and Bahrain’s deal with Israel to normalize relations, in Gaza City, Sept. 15, 2020.

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