WHITE HOUSE - From behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office Thursday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a “historical peace agreement” between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to commence "full normalization of relations." Part of the deal includes Israel’s commitment to suspend annexation of Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank.
The agreement is called the "Abraham Accord" after the father of monotheistic religions founded in the Middle East – Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
“I wanted it to be called the Donald J. Trump Accord,” Trump said to aides’ laughter. “But I didn't think the press would understand that.”
In a statement, the White House said the “historic breakthrough” was made possible by Trump’s “leadership and expertise as a dealmaker.” Hours later, national security adviser Robert O’Brien told White House reporters that he wouldn’t be surprised if the president is eventually nominated for a Nobel Prize.
The deal marks the first Gulf country and the third Arab country to have full diplomatic relations with Israel since Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. Egypt signed an agreement in 1979, and Jordan in 1994.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the deal, Emirati officials were more circumspect.
"Is it perfect? Nothing is perfect in a very difficult region," said senior UAE official Anwar Gargash. "But I think we used our political chips right."
For years the UAE and Israel have had under-the-table contacts, which can now be conducted openly. The deal could lead to stronger economic, political and cultural ties not only between the countries’ governments but also among their people.
“Already some prominent Emiratis have been posting on Twitter about going to the beach in Tel Aviv,” said William Todman, an associate fellow in the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
But while the deal is a significant step in improving Israel’s relations with Arab states and will open possibilities for the two countries, Todman said the importance shouldn't be overstated.
“The UAE was never at war with Israel. And so, in terms of a step towards regional peace, I think that that part is currently being exaggerated,” he said.
Trump administration officials refuse to clarify how long Israel will suspend annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank as a result of this deal, and under what circumstances the U.S. would support Netanyahu returning to annexation plans.
“Somewhere between a long time and a short time. That's what temporary means,” said Jared Kushner, White House senior adviser in charge of the Middle East Peace Process.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Melech Friedman confirmed that the issue could be revisited.
“It's not off the table,” Friedman said. “It's just something that will be deferred until we give peace every single chance.”
The administration officials’ statements appear to protect Netanyahu’s domestic interest.
“Israel for its own domestic political reasons will have to couch this as a suspension, and not totally forswearing it,” said William Wechsler, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council.
However, Wechsler added, it’s unlikely that Israel would restart annexation discussions once full normalization has occurred.
Annexation suspension at this point “makes a lot of sense from the Israeli point of view” Wechsler said, adding that in the long term, control over Palestinian land will put Israel in the bind of choosing between a Jewish identity versus a liberal democratic state where Palestinians have the same citizenship rights as Israelis.
Palestinians have reacted with anger, with a spokesperson to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling the deal "treason."
Palestinian analysts say there will be no changes on the ground.
“There is no suspension,” said Dana El Kurd of the Palestinian policy network Al-Shabaka. “Annexation and the theft of Palestinian land continues unabated, as it did before the Israeli government pointed to a date in the calendar as ‘annexation’ day and will continue to do so after.”
El Kurd said normalization of relations with Israel was one of the few remaining bargaining chips the Arabs had.
“They just squandered it for literally nothing in return,” he said.