World leaders praise Israel-UAE deal as Palestinians cry foul

·4-min read

World leaders voiced hope Friday that a historic deal between the UAE and Israel could kickstart moribund Middle East peace talks, even as the Palestinians and their supporters denounced the move to normalise ties as a betrayal of their cause.

Announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, it was only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raised the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.

The deal sees Israel pledge to suspend its planned annexation of Palestinian lands, a concession welcomed by European and some pro-Western Arab governments as a boost for hopes of peace.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Israel was not abandoning its plans to one day annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank.

News of the agreement was broken by US President Donald Trump, in a tweet hailing a "HUGE breakthrough".

He said leaders from the two countries would sign the deal at the White House in around three weeks, evoking memories of previous US-mediated Middle East accords.

The Palestinian leadership rejected the deal as a "betrayal" of their cause, saying they would withdraw their ambassador from the Emirates.

Following Friday prayers in Jerusalem, worshippers outside the Al-Aqsa mosque walked on pictures of UAE strongman Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, people set fire to pictures of Sheikh Mohamed, Netanyahu and Trump.

In Ramallah in the West Bank, office worker Jihad Hussein, said: "The Palestinian people have been stabbed in the back by the Emirates leadership."

"But neither this agreement nor anything else will undermine our will to fight for the freedom and independence," he added.

- 'Full normalisation' -

Establishing diplomatic ties between Israel and Washington's Middle East allies, including the oil-rich Gulf monarchies, has been central to Trump's regional strategy to contain Iran, also an arch-foe of Israel.

Tehran on Friday condemned the deal as an act of "strategic stupidity" that would only strengthen the Iranian-backed "axis of resistance".

Under the deal, Israel and the UAE "agreed to the full normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates", according to a joint statement Thursday evening by Trump, Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohamed. 

They added that Israel would "suspend declaring sovereignty" over occupied Palestinian West Bank areas -- an idea proposed in Trump's controversial peace plan unveiled earlier this year.

Sheikh Mohamed quickly stressed in a tweet that an agreement has been "reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories".

But Netanyahu insisted shortly afterwards that he had only agreed to delay, not cancel, the annexations, that the plans remained "on the table" saying he would "never give up our rights to our land".

Among other US allies in the Gulf, both Bahrain and Oman put out statements backing the normalisation deal.

The European Union said normalisation would benefit both Israel and the UAE, but foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali stressed the bloc's commitment to a two-state solution. 

"We are, of course, ready to work on the resumption of the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians," she said.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a longtime critic of Israel and frequently at odds with western powers, threatened to suspend diplomatic relations with the UAE or withdraw Ankara's ambassador.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said normalisation of ties between the two countries was "an important contribution to peace in the region". 

There was no immediate word from regional heavyweight and Emirati ally Saudi Arabia.

- Annexation relief -

The controversial Trump plan, unveiled in January, had offered a path for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements across the West Bank, communities considered illegal under international law.

The Palestinians had rejected the plan outright as biased and untenable, as did Israel's Arab neighbours, and it sparked fears of further escalation in a tense region.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he hoped Israel's suspension of annexations under the plan could help realise a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Annexation would "effectively close the door" on negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and "destroy the prospect" of a viable Palestinian state, he said.

The deal marks a major foreign policy achievement for Trump as he heads into a difficult campaign for re-election in November.


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