West Bank Peace Deal Says Annexations Will End; Netanyahu Says Otherwise

President Donald Trump, accompanied from left by Brian Hook, U.S. special envoy for Iran; Avraham Berkowitz, assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations; U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman; White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump said 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)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Undercutting the supposed breakthrough in Middle East tensions announced Thursday by President Donald Trump, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed that afternoon to keeping control of disputed West Bank land.

“There is no change to our plans to apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, in coordination with the U.S.,” Netanyahu said in a broadcast from his office in Jerusalem. “I remain committed to that.”

Only minutes earlier, Trump had announced via Twitter that the United Arab Emirates and Israel had agreed to fully normalized diplomatic relations, and that Israel will stop its annexation of contested land in the West Bank as part of the deal. 

“The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible and will work together to achieve this goal,” a joint statement touts, credited to Trump, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi said Thursday.

The deal makes the UAE the first nation on the Persian Gulf to enter an accord with Israel. Only two other Arab nations have done so before: Jordan in 1994 and Egypt in 1979.

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

Thursday’s agreement was brokered by the White House and State Department with talks led by the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien. The U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman and special Mideast envoy Avi Berkowitz also mediated. 

Standing at Trump’s side in the White House on Thursday, Kushner called the announcement was unprecedented.

“By focusing on common interests instead of common grievances is what allowed this administration to achieve results others had not achieved,” said Kushner, who was tapped in January to spearhead the administration’s broader peace plan for the Middle East.

“This will advance the region and the whole world,” Kushner continued. “I would like to say to the people of the region, to the Muslims, Jews and Christians: this does give hope. The problems of the past do not condemn you to a future of conflict.”

In the coming weeks, the UAE and Israel will hold bilateral meetings where diplomats will discuss how to increase the flow of industry, tourism, health care and travel.

The announcement is also a political boon for Trump and Netanyahu. Though talks are early and deals in the region have a tendency to fall apart fast, the development gives the U.S. president a chance to cash in on any good will the announcement creates, with less than 85 days until the November election. 

For Netanyahu, it makes for good news in an administration that, like that of the U.S., has been wracked by the Covid-19 virus after pushing to swiftly reopen its economy. Israel has seen sky-high unemployment numbers, hovering at close to 20% last month. Netanyahu has also been besieged by protesters this summer demanding he resign over his handling of the pandemic.

The agreement was described by the U.S. president as the “Abraham Accords” during Thursday’s press conference.

In a statement on Twitter, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi said explicitly the accord would further stop Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories and that a “road map” would soon be set on enriching the mutual relationship.

The U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook — who is slated to take leave of his post this month — said the deal would fortify Israel’s position against Iran.

“Peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is Iran’s worst nightmare and no one has done more to intensify the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis than Iran,” Hook said. “What we see today is a new Middle East. The trend lines are very different today and we see the future is very much in the gulf and with Israel and the past is with the Iranian regime. It clings to power on the basis of brute force.”

When Hook leaves later this month, he will be replaced by Elliott Abrams, U.S. special envoy to Venezuela. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Abrams would continue to serve in that role while also taking over for Hook. 

While Israel gets a boost in support from the U.S. and the UAE, the announcement at this point ultimately fails to move the needle on grievances many Palestinians already have with an outsize Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Though the announcement features a halt to further annexation, there are still half a million Israelis who have already settled there.

Hanan Ashrawi, senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee slammed the announcement on Twitter,” Ashrawi wrote. “Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation. The UAE has come out in the open in its secret dealings and normalization with Israel. Please don’t do us a favor. We are nobody’s fig leaf!”

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