Steve September 15, 2020

Hoping to bolster his foreign policy credentials ahead of November’s election, Tweety McTreason on Tuesday will host representatives of the Persian Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain along with Israel to sign what the administration officials describe as agreements of mutual recognition.

The UAE and Bahrain would become only the third and fourth Arab countries to formally open ties with Israel, a country most Middle Eastern nations have long refused to recognize, in part for its failure to resolve the conflict with Palestinians.

White House officials were planning an elaborately choreographed ceremony, describing the agreements as major “peace treaties,” even though Israel is not at war with either country and already enjoys business and security ties, albeit discreetly, with both Arab countries.

Copies of the agreements have not yet been released, so it remains difficult to discern what the agreements say and whether they are binding. A senior administration official said no documents would be released until after the ceremony.

Officials in the home countries cast some doubt on the significance of the agreements to be signed. Even senior Israeli officials were not told what the documents contain, creating a storm of controversy there.

Israel will be represented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while the UAE and Bahrain delegations will be led by the countries’ foreign ministers.

Like Trump, Netanyahu badly needs a political boost. The embattled prime minister faces criminal corruption charges, an economy buckling under the pressure of coronavirus-related slowdowns and a swelling protest movement demanding his resignation.

“Diplomatic sleight of hand can’t absolve Netanyahu of the domestic omni-shambles,” said Gershom Gorenberg, a prominent Israeli historian and author.

The UAE on Aug. 13 announced it was agreeing to work on normalizing relations with Israel. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to sell the UAE F-35 stealth fighter jets, and Israel would agree to temporarily suspend plans to annex part of the occupied West Bank land that Palestinians claim for their state.

The Trump administration has not disclosed what concessions, if any, were granted to Bahrain for its agreement.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and point man for the Middle East, praised the UAE and Bahrain decisions. He spearheaded the Trump administration’s failed effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a plan widely derided as one-sided in favor of Israel.

The administration hopes the agreements signed Tuesday will further isolate Palestinians from the rest of the Arab world.

“I think that this will help reduce tension in the Muslim world and allow people to, you know, separate the Palestinian issue from their own national interests, and from their foreign policy,” Kushner told reporters.

Palestinians have condemned the agreements as a betrayal by the two Arab nations that will only delay peace efforts.

The Trump administration also sees an emerging alliance between Israel and some gulf countries as a bulwark against Iran.

“There was this deep belief inside the foreign policy establishment in the United States — indeed, in most Western countries — that you had to resolve the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel before Arab nations would have a shared view that Israel had a right to exist,” Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo told French radio Tuesday. “These nations have come to understand that the threat, the harm, the risk to their people doesn’t come from the Jewish state. It doesn’t come from Israel, but rather comes from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Staff writer Wilkinson reported from Washington and special correspondent Tarnopolsky reported from Jerusalem.

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