Five nations waiting to make peace with Israel, Trump says at signing

THE dawn of a new Middle East. That's how Donald Trump described the signing of accords binding Israel, the United Emirates and Bahrain together.

The American president, casting himself as an international peacemaker at the height of his re-election campaign, hosted the ceremony on the White House lawn on Tuesday.

The bilateral agreements formalise the normalisation of Israel's already thawing relations with the UAE and Bahrain in line with their common opposition to Iran.

Indeed, Trump told reporters that "about five" Arab nations were waiting in the wings to follow suit.

The Palestinians view the pacts as a stab in the back from their fellow Arabs and a betrayal of their cause for a Palestinian state.

Hundreds of people massed on the sun-washed lawn to witness the signing in a festive atmosphere little marked by the coronavirus pandemic.

They did not practise social distancing and most guests didn't wear masks.

"We're here this afternoon to change the course of history," Trump said. "After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the day "is a pivot of history - it heralds a new dawn of peace."

Neither Netanyahu nor Trump mentioned the Palestinians, but both the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers spoke of the importance of creating a Palestinian state.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al- Nahyan, the brother of Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, even thanked Netanyahu for "halting the annexation" of West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, however, has insisted that Israel has only suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements.

"Today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East - a change that will send hope around the world," al-Nahyan said.

Bahrani Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said: "Today is a truly historic occasion - a moment for hope and opportunity."

Israel and America hope the agreements usher in a major shift in the region should other Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, follow suit.

Other Arab countries believed to be close to recognising Israel include Oman, Sudan and Morocco.

"We are very down the road with about five different countries," Trump told reporters.

In addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, all three signed a document dubbed the "Abraham Accords" after the patriarch of the world's three major monotheistic religions.

"This is an incredible day for the world," Trump said at the start of the ceremony.

"The courage of the Israeli and Arab leaders has enabled these countries to take a major stride towards a future where people of all faiths live together in peace and prosperity." The president emphasised that Muslims from around the world would now be able to visit the holy sites in Israel, including al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu reminded the audience that Jews have prayed for peace for thousands of years and the citizens of Israel have done so for decades.

"This day brings hope to all of the children of Abraham," he added.

"To all of Israel's friends in the Middle East - those who are with us today and those who will join us tomorrow - I say, 'salaam aleikum, peace unto thee, shalom'.

"The blessings of peace that we make today will be enormous, first because this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states - and ultimately, it can end the Arab-Israel conflict once and for all."

The UAE's Abdullah bin Zayed expressed similar sentiments. But he also emphasised that the Abraham Accord "will enable us to stand with the Palestinians and enable their hopes of establishing a Palestinian state".

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