JERUSALEM - Israelis have warmly welcomed the announcement of full diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while Palestinians have angrily denounced it. The move, first announced Thursday in Washington, is also being seen as an effort to help both U.S. President Donald Trump, who is up for reelection in November, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader faces a corruption trial and growing protests calling on him to resign.
The UAE is the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to establish ties that will include direct flights and a series of bilateral agreements on investment, tourism, health care, culture and other areas.
"I have always believed we could establish peace with the Arab world, and I've been working toward that lofty goal for decades," Netanyahu said in a TV address. "You may not know it, but I've been doing it all the time, in meetings that are publicized and in many that are not, in Washington, in the Middle East, in daylight and in nighttime. In recent years under my leadership, Israel has made advancement in ties with Sudan, Oman, Bahrain, and other nations in the Gulf."
Netanyahu also thanked regional leaders.
"I thank Egyptian President al-Sisi, and the governments of Oman and Bahrain, for their support of the historic peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which is expanding the circle of peace and will be good for the entire region."
Israeli media said that a delegation headed by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who has been leading the talks with officials in the UAE, will travel there next week to finalize the details. President Trump, who first announced the diplomatic breakthrough, had said there could be a signing ceremony in Washington in "about three weeks."
Many Israelis welcomed the move, with some on Facebook saying they would like to visit the UAE.
"I am so pleased about peace breaking out with the UAE. We Israelis need all the treaties we can get," said Rena Megun, who with her husband, a rabbi, conduct virtual bar mitzvahs ( www.virtualbarbatmitzvah.com ) using Zoom. But she said it would not change her negative opinion of President Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.
"I do not think that this treaty has anything to do with either of the men behind it wanting peace for their region," she said. "They could care less what happens to the people they serve. I believe it is the result of a brainstorming session between the two of them where they tried desperately to think of what they could do to boost their flagging ratings in their respective countries, with elections looming on both continents."
What's in the deal ?
As part of the agreement, Israel agreed to "suspend" its annexation of part of the West Bank. The Trump peace plan had said Israel could annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank, a move Palestinians said would mean the end of any chance for an independent Palestinian state.
"The deal is positive because it removes annexation from the agenda for the present time. It also opens new possibilities for influencing Israelis and Palestinians on the possible benefits of direct contacts," Gershon Baskin, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and author of "In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine" said in an interview.
"Perhaps direct contact between Israelis and other Arab countries can change Israeli attitudes towards the Palestinians," he said, adding, "The Egyptian and Jordanian streets have remained unfriendly to Israelis and the peace between Israel and Egypt and Jordan has been a peace between regimes and not between peoples. Hopefully Israelis will feel more welcome in the UAE and maybe that will have a positive impact."
It was not clear if Israel had taken annexation off the table temporarily. Many of the 430,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank have voiced anger at Netanyahu.
"The prime minister has lost it. He misled us for a long time," David Elhayani, chairman of the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, told Israeli Radio.
He said if Netanyahu had truly given up on the plan to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements, "Netanyahu needs to be replaced."
Why Palestinians are upset
Palestinians were also upset about the deal, which broke a long-term unofficial rule that there could be no diplomatic movement between Israel and the Arab world without progress in talks with the Palestinians. Palestinians said they felt betrayed by the UAE.
The Palestinian Authority Thursday called for the United Arab Emirates to "immediately retract" its agreement to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel, which it called a "despicable decision."
"The Palestinian leadership rejects the actions of the Emirati government, considering it to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem and al-Aqsa," PA spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement read aloud on Palestine TV.
Abu Rudeineh said the PA recalled its ambassador from Abu Dhabi, and rejected claims by the UAE that the move will benefit Palestinians by taking annexation off the table.
"The leadership affirms that the UAE, or any other party, has no right to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people, and does not allow anyone to intervene in the Palestinian affairs or speak on their behalf about their legitimate rights in their homeland," Abu Rudeineh said.
Criticism also came from the rival Hamas movement, which controls the densely populated Gaza Strip.
"The U.S.-Israeli-Emirati agreement is dangerous and represents a 'free reward' for the Israeli occupation for its crimes and violations of the Palestinian people's human rights," said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum, who added that the Gaza-based terror group saw the agreement as "a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause."
Reaction from around the world
While many countries around the world, including the European Union, welcomed the deal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could suspend diplomatic relations with the UAE.
"I gave an order to the foreign minister. I said we could suspend diplomatic relations with the Abu Dhabi administration or withdraw our ambassador," Erdogan told reporters.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they hoped the agreement with Abu Dhabi would open the gates for other Arab states to formalize ties with Israel, and several Israeli newspapers speculated that Bahrain would be next.