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Trump says UAE to open diplomatic ties with Israel

President Donald Trump, accompanied by from left, U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, Avraham Berkowitz, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Trump's White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, applaud in the Oval Office at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Washington. Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state, President Donald Trump said Thursday.

The announcement makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state to do so and only the third Arab nation to have active diplomatic ties to Israel.

“Today we usher in a new era of peace between Israel and the Arab world,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a nationally televised statement. “There is a good chance we will soon see more Arab countries joining this expanding circle of peace.”

The Palestinians expressed initial anger over the announcement and the official Palestinian broadcaster Palestine TV reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called an urgent meeting of his top leadership to discuss the agreement and determine a position on it.

Netanyahu also said in the broadcast that the Trump administration asked that Israel put its West Bank annexation plans on hold to move forward with the agreement on ties with the UAE.

He said there was “no change” to his plans to annex parts of the West Bank but added the plans were on “temporary hold” and that implementing annexation would be done with U.S. coordination.

His remarks appeared aimed at placating influential settlers who were angered by Israel’s shelving of plans to annex parts of the West Bank. But they contradicted statements from Emirati officials who viewed annexation as off the table.

Trump tweeted a statement from the countries, acknowledging the deal. He then told reporters in the Oval Office that it was “a truly historic moment.”

“Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

The recognition grants a rare diplomatic win to Trump ahead of the November election as his efforts to see an end to the war in Afghanistan have yet to come to fruition while efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians have made no headway. Israel and the UAE also have been among Trump’s closest foreign allies.

For Israel, the announcement follows years of boasting by Netanyahu that his government enjoys closer ties to Arab nations than publicly acknowledged. He has sought to build settlements on lands sought by the Palestinians and embraced a Trump proposal that would allow him to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank while granting Palestinians limited autonomy in other areas.

For the UAE, home to skyscraper-studded Dubai and the rolling, oil-rich sand dunes of Abu Dhabi, it further burnishes its international campaign to be seen as a beacon of tolerance in the Middle East despite being governed by autocratic rulers. It also puts the UAE out first in a regional recognition race among neighboring Gulf Arab states.

And for the Palestinians, who long have relied on Arab backing in their struggle for independence, the announcement marked both a win and setback. While the deal halts Israeli annexation plans, the Palestinians have repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalize relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.

“Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi wrote on Twitter. She also said the UAE has come forward with its “secret dealings/normalization with Israel.”

“Please don’t do us a favor. We are nobody’s fig leaf!” she wrote.

The militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called the deal by the Emiratis “a stabbing in the back of our people.”

The joint statement from the U.S., the UAE and Israel said delegations would meet in the coming weeks to sign deals on direct flights, security, telecommunications, energy, tourism and health care.

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