By Laura Fernandez Palomo
Jerusalem, Aug 13 (efe-epa).- The United Arab Emirates has moved to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, taking that step Thursday after Israeli authorities agreed to suspend plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
The announcement was made in the United States’ capital, after which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in Jerusalem and celebrated the forging of diplomatic ties with a third Arab country (Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994).
“Today we usher in a new era of peace between Israel and the Arab world,” Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address. “There is a good chance we will soon see more Arab countries joining this expanding circle of peace.”
The UAE, for its part, characterized the US-brokered agreement as a courageous step that is aimed at reviving the peace process and the possibility of forging a Palestinian state.
Palestinian organizations, however, slammed the accord and said it legitimizes the current Israeli occupation and marks a break with a consensus not to establish relations with Israel until a Palestinian state has been created.
But US President Donald Trump hailed the pact as “historic.”
“HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates!” the head of state said in making the surprising announcement.
As part of the deal, Israel will “suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in (Trump’s) Vision for Peace (between Israel and the Palestinians) and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” a joint statement by the US, Israel and the UAE read.
Netanyahu, however, clarified later there is “no change” to his plan to apply sovereignty over territories in the West Bank “with full coordination with the US.”
Israel’s coalition government had set July 1 as the start date for considering the annexation move, but no action has yet been taken in that regard.
Israel has maintained unofficial contacts with Arab countries for decades, particularly with Gulf Arab states that, like Israel, consider Iran an enemy. But until very recently it had avoided making a show of those relations due to the sensitive Palestinian question.
In recent years, however, Israel has publicized trips by senior officials to Bahrain and Netanyahu’s visit in 2018 to Oman for a meeting with then-Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
Bahrain also was the country that in 2019 hosted a conference on the economic aspects of Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
In addition, a UAE delegation was in attendance in January when Trump unveiled his Vision for Peace at the White House.
Netanyahu, for his part, said during his visit in 2019 to Chad, a majority-Muslim African country, that the re-establishment of Israel’s diplomatic ties with that nation was “part of the revolution we are leading in the Arab and Muslim world.”
And this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Israel and the UAE announced several historic cooperation agreements aimed at researching medical and technological solutions to combat Covid-19.
Thursday’s move marks yet another step in that process, and the two countries also said they will be joining the US in launching “a Strategic Agenda for the Middle East to expand diplomatic, trade and security cooperation.”
The Palestinian question has been the main source of tension in Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors, which have long opposed the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. Those tensions boiled over into regional wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973.
The Israeli-UAE diplomatic agreement was met with disgust by leading Palestinian politicians.