President Trump on Thursday announced the U.S. is helping to support the full normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, a breakthrough in relations in the Middle East and part of the administration's efforts to shore up support against Iran.
The move will also halt efforts by Israel to annex territory in the West Bank that was outlined in Trump’s plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but widely opposed by the international community and Arab world, according to the announcement on Twitter.
“As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump and with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Muslim world,” the statement read.
The Trump administration has made Israel a cornerstone of its foreign policy, frequently touting its decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and its recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
But Thursday’s announcement represents more of a diplomatic breakthrough than a unilateral action, giving the president something to hang his hat on less than three months before Election Day.
Trump did not hesitate to frame the announcement in political terms. He claimed he would be able to secure a deal with Iran within “30 days” if he wins reelection despite his inability to do so throughout his first term. And he asserted other nations would prefer presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden because they could take advantage of him.
The announcement came in a joint statement between Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
“The historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders,” the statement read. “All three countries face many common challenges and will mutually benefit from today’s historic achievement.”
The crown prince added on Twitter in Arabic and English that he had spoken with Netanyahu about stopping annexation and establishing ties.
“During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship," he said.
Formalized relations between the UAE and Israel bring to the forefront a quiet diplomacy that was building for years between the two countries, collaborating on security and against what is viewed by both countries as an existential threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
But that quiet alliance was most recently threatened by Netanyahu’s push for annexation.
The Israeli prime minister backed off a formal declaration of taking control of territory in the West Bank in July following an extraordinary statement by the UAE’s ambassador to the U.S. in Hebrew media calling for putting a stop to annexation.
Any recognition of Israel or Israeli institutions among Arab nations with no formal ties to the country is considered blasphemy among those countries, who put their support behind the Palestinian’s push for an independent state.
Trump on Thursday said he expects other Arab nations to follow moves by the UAE.
“Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead … and normalize relations with Israel,” Trump said on Fox News. “We are already discussing this with other nations, with very powerful, very good nations and people that want to see peace in the Middle East. So you will probably see others of these.”
Part of normalizing relations also includes joint cooperation on vaccines for COVID-19, the statement read, adding that the UAE and Israel “will immediately expand and accelerate treatment of and the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus.”
Representatives for Israel and the UAE will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements, the statement said.
“Along with the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates share a similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region,” the statement continued, “as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability through diplomatic engagement, increased economic integration and closer security coordination.”
The announcement is also likely to provide a political boost to Netanyahu, who is facing widespread domestic protests over corruption scandals and his handling of COVID-19 but can use the moment to reinforce his ability to expand Israel’s international outreach with surprising allies.
In 2018, Netanyahu made a surprise trip to Oman, the first Israeli prime minister to travel to the Persian Gulf country since 1994 and, in February, he held a meeting with Sudan’s leader in Uganda.