It’s formal: The Emirates and Bahrain recognize Israel. US President Trump pompously staged the signing of the agreement.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed agreements on Tuesday, not only with the Arab Emirates, but also with Bahrain, which provide for the normalization of relations with the Jewish state. With a solemn ceremony in Washington, US President Donald Trump pompously staged the rapprochement that his administration had intensified in recent weeks.
These were unusual scenes that played out in front of the several hundred guests in the garden of the White House.
Israel’s blue Star of David waved between the national flags of Bahrain and the Emirates. On the terrace above stood close together (not only for pandemic times, also for Middle Eastern conditions): Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministers of the Emirates and Bahrains, Abdullah bin Zajid Al Nahajan and Abdullatif bin Raschid al-Zajani.
Nobody spared in big words on Tuesday: The US President spoke of a “new Middle East”, of a future in which Muslims, Jews and Christians lived peacefully side by side. Netanyahu saw a great day for the “children of Abraham”. And Abdullah bin Zajid spoke of a “change in the region” and a “better future”.
At the last minute, Bahrain announced on Friday that it would join the Emirates, recognize Israel as well and send a representative to Washington. In return for recognition, Netanyahu promised to “suspend” the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, which the Palestinians claim for a state of their own.
On the Israeli side, the Knesset still has to give its approval, but this is a matter of form. This increases the number of Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Jerusalem to four. Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively. Tuesday’s agreements are strictly not a peace agreement, even if they are officially titled because neither the Emirates nor Bahrain were at war with Israel.
In addition to the two agreements, all four parties signed another document on Tuesday: the so-called Abraham Agreement, named after the patriarch of the three major monotheistic religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
However, the festive atmosphere could not hide the fact that important actors were missing from the White House.
It was not just the monarchs of Bahrain and the Emirates who stayed at home and sent only their foreign ministers instead. Representatives of the second central party in the Middle East conflict, the Palestinians, were also completely absent. The leadership in Ramallah strictly rejects rapprochement and regards it as treason.
In the West Bank, Palestinians protested against the signing of the agreement in the run-up to the ceremony.
Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags at demonstrations in various cities. Signs read “No to normalization with the occupying power”. According to reports, however, there was no mass mobilization; only a few hundred participants followed the calls to protest.
That evening, during Netanyahu’s speech in Washington, the sirens wailed in southern Israel. According to the Israeli military, two rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. The defense system “Iron Dome” intercepted a missile, said the army. According to media reports, two people were injured in the city of Ashdod.
It is unclear whether it will stay with the Emirates and Bahrain. In a press conference before the ceremony, Trump was convinced that other Arab states would join the two Gulf states. “We have many nations ready to follow,” said the president. Trump spoke of “at least five or six” states, who recorded the agreements of the Tuesday before the US election in November as a foreign policy success.
Candidates are the Gulf Monarchy of Oman as well as Sudan and Morocco. But Saudi Arabia has also signaled in recent weeks that it at least does not stand in the way of rapprochement between Arab states and Israel. Riyadh, for example, allowed planes en route from Israel to the Emirates and back to use Saudi airspace.
It is unlikely that the Saudis will be the next to completely normalize their relations with Israel. On the one hand, Riyadh is likely to have greater difficulties than the authoritarian small states of Emirates and Bahrain in legitimizing such a step towards their own people. On the other hand, it was the Saudi leadership that launched the so-called Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, which was to shape the politics of the Arab League states for 18 years.
The Arab Peace Initiative provides that the Arab states decide on peace or normalization of relations with Israel only together – not individually as the Emirates and Bahrain are now. In addition, Israel can only be recognized if the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved and Israel agrees to its own state of Palestine.
“The Arab peace initiative was an obstacle on the way to making peace with us,” Yossi Beilin, former Israeli peace negotiator, told journalists on Tuesday in advance of the ceremony in Washington. He was accordingly pleased about the signing of the agreements with Bahrain and the Emirates: They are one of the achievements “which one thinks that one will not see them in life again.”
Critics counter that the US administration is pursuing an extremely one-sided pro-Israeli course in which one party to the conflict, the Palestinians, simply does not appear. A negotiated conflict resolution in the Middle East is not getting any closer. In fact, Trump had offended the Palestinians from the start of his presidency, for example by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which claims leadership in Ramallah as the future Palestinian capital.
In Europe too, skepticism towards US Middle East policy prevails. It was noticeable that the EU was not represented in the White House on Tuesday. The EU countries were almost not there either. Only the Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced that he would take part in the ceremony.