The White House has urged other Arab and Muslim states to follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead and open diplomatic relations with Israel, following an historic agreement between the two countries on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, US president Donald Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner hailed the deal “a major turning point in the Middle East”.
However, the deal met with an angry response from Palestinians. The veteran legislator and activist Hanan Ashrawi called the deal “a complete sellout” of the Palestinians. “The UAE has come out in the open on its secret dealings/normalisation with Israel,” she said on Twitter.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas denounced the “surprise” accord, describing it as a “betrayal”in a statement issued through his spokesman.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation that rules Gaza, said the move was a “stab against the Palestinian cause, and will encourage the Israeli occupation to commit more aggression against our people”.
Mr Kushner said discussions between Israel and the UAE had begun in earnest a year and a half ago, but gathered pace after the publication of his Middle East peace plan in January. The agreement was finished in principle a week ago, he said, with the details finalised on Wednesday, though he said it would take time for it to be implemented.
The UAE – a staunch ally of the US – has become only the third Arab country after Egypt and Jordan to open diplomatic relations with Israel. In reality, the two had been growing more closely aligned in recent years.
Mr Kushner, whose peace plan for the Middle East was roundly denounced by Palestinian leaders and most international observers on its release earlier this year, said he believed the Palestinians’ reaction to his plan had convinced some Arab players in the region “to re-examine whether they should be waiting for the Palestinians”.
He said many of those believed that if they chose to wait for the Palestinian leadership to make the right decision, “they would be waiting a very long time”.
He claimed many Arab leaders wanted to develop business contacts with Israel, to be able to fly into the country, and to ensure that their residents could travel to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The agreement was evidence of what could be achieved “if we are willing to have a little bit of courage, a bit of creativity and good leadership”.
In particular, he praised his father-in-law’s role in the process.
“The work President Trump has done in the Middle East has been very underrated, particularly when you consider what had happened in the previous eight years,” he said, highlighting the civil war in Syria and the Iran nuclear deal.
“When we got there it was a total mess... people appreciate how the president has methodically rebuilt the relationships. I do think we are bringing great momentum.”
He said an administration led by him and his running mate Kamala Harris “will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace”.
However, he also warned Israel against any future plans to annex the West Bank – a policy priority of the current Israeli government that was put on hold as part of the UAE deal.
“Annexation would be a body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president,” he said. “It would virtually end any chance of a two-state solution that would secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state and uphold the right of Palestinians to a state of their own.
“By forestalling that possibility and replacing it with the hope of greater connection and integration in the region, the United Arab Emirates and Israel have pointed a path toward a more peaceful, stable Middle East.”
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt – which already has diplomatic relations with Israel – said he was watching the agreement “with attention and appreciation”.