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Israel to normalize relations with Bahrain, UAE at White House

Israel was to normalize relations with long-time foes Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at a White House ceremony on Tuesday in a US-brokered peace deal which President Donald Trump hopes will boost his reelection chances in November.

Trump, speaking to Fox News ahead of the ceremony, said the agreements would put pressure on the Palestinians to also come to the negotiating table or they would be “left out in the cold.”

“We’re going to have a lot of other countries joining us very soon,” Trump said. “And the Palestinians will ultimately come in too.

“And you’re going to have peace in the Middle East without being stupid and shooting everybody, and killing everybody, and having blood all over the sand.”

The White House event attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE will be the first time Arab nations have established relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Hundreds of people are invited to attend and a symbolic handshake between the Arab representatives and Netanyahu is not ruled out, a senior US official said.

“Coronavirus (is) in the background of everybody’s minds, although everybody will have been tested,” he said. So “if they are to engage in any sort of physical contact that will be understood.”

For the Mideast, the deals dubbed the Abraham Accords mark a distinct shift in a decades-old status quo where Arab countries have tried to maintain unity against Israel over its treatment of the stateless Palestinians.

Feeling increasingly abandoned, Palestinian leaders on Sunday urged demonstrations in the occupied territories and outside embassies of the United States, Israel, Bahrain and the UAE to protest what they called “shameful agreements.”

But other, powerful forces are transforming the playing field in the region.

– Something for everybody –

All the four countries celebrating at the White House share a common hostility to Iran, which Trump has put under crippling economic and diplomatic pressure.

The thaw will also give Israel and its two new Arab partners a big economic opening, just when they are looking to rebuild after the international slowdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump will enjoy the optics of presiding over a historic breakthrough less than 50 days before election day, which opinion polls show he is currently on course to lose.

After an often bruising, chaotic first term on the diplomatic front, Tuesday’s event is seen as a rare piece of good news that even some Democratic critics have applauded.

Netanyahu, a close Trump ally who faces a corruption trial and criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, could also use a dose of good news coverage.

The UAE, meanwhile, has been using the negotiations as part of its campaign to pressure Washington to override Israeli objections and sell it the cutting edge F-35 warplane.

Trump said Tuesday he was willing to sell the warplanes to the UAE despite objections from Israel.

“I would have no problem in selling them the F-35,” he told Fox News, adding that it would mean “tremendous jobs at home.”

The UAE is eying the stealth fighter jet as a component in its ambitious plans to make the small, wealthy country into a regional military power.

Israel — currently the only country in the region to possess the US warplanes — has pushed back, eager to retain its overwhelming technical advantage against its Arab neighbors.

Details of exactly what’s in the Abraham Accords remain sketchy, with the documents yet to be published.

The White House official said that there would be one common document and separate bilateral agreements between Israel and the two Arab countries.

Another important element left unclear on the eve of the signing was whether the large crowd expected at the White House would respect anti-coronavirus protocols.

Nearly 195,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US.

Israel is about to enter a new three-week lockdown to combat surging infections. And according to an AFP tally over the past two weeks, Israel is second behind Bahrain for the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate.

Trump, rarely seen in a mask, is leading a charge in the United States to lift restrictions, saying that the worst is over and Americans need to get back to normal life.

The senior administration official said mask wearing was encouraged but “we’re not going to require anybody to do so.”