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Despite pressure from Trump, Arab nations resist normalizing ties with Israel


When he announced a potentially historic deal last month in which Persian Gulf nation United Arab Emirates said it was preparing to recognize Israel, President Trump predicted other Arab states would quickly follow suit.

But after two trips through the region by senior Trump advisors to build on what they hoped would be momentum from the Emirates deal, no other Arab nation has said it is willing to take the long-shunned leap to accept and recognize Israel as a legitimate Mideast neighbor, at least not until Israel resolves its conflict with Palestinians.

They may be waiting to see what happens with the U.S. election in November, as well as the final details of an Israeli-Emirati deal, expected to be signed later this month or next.

But their hesitance also reflects decades of political and religious tension, in which most of the Arab world steadfastly pretends Israel does not exist.

The Emirates would become only the third Arab country in history to recognize Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner traveled Monday on the first publicly acknowledged direct flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, the Emirates’ main city, aboard the Israeli airliner, El Al.

Kushner used his four-day trip to the Middle East to try to entice additional Arab countries to join the Emirates in moving to normalize relations with Israel. That follows a similar sojourn last month by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, who traveled to five countries in the region. Both officials came up empty-handed.

One obstacle is the two-decade-old Arab-sponsored peace plan in which countries of the region vowed to not recognize Israel until it resolved its conflict with Palestinians over land claimed by both sides, including some of the world’s holiest sites in Jerusalem.

Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians broke down years ago, and relations only worsened under Trump. Earlier this year, Trump unveiled a plan that would clear the way for Israel to permanently annex part of the West Bank land it seized during the 1967 Middle East War, while providing only a sketchy pathway for a viable, independent Palestinian state. Palestinian leaders rejected the plan, as did much of the international community, which views any annexation of occupied West Bank land as illegal.

The Emirates deal, urged by Trump, violates the promise in the so-called Arab Peace Initiative to link diplomatic normalization with Israel to the resolution of the Palestinian conflict. It does, however, include a commitment by Israel to at least temporarily suspend any annexation of land in the West Bank.

The question now is whether the Emirates’ breaking of that 2002 covenant with the Palestinians will lead other nations to follow. Decades ago, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominated the region, but more recently it has been overshadowed by turmoil in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Iran.

“It is not just the Israeli-Palestinian issue” anymore, said Eliav Benjamin, a senior official with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “It’s far greater than that. It’s the Middle East at large.”

The Emirates has been partly motivated by its desire to buy some of the most sophisticated fighter jets in the U.S. arsenal. An undisclosed number of F-35 fighter jets will reportedly be sold to the Emirates, despite Israeli objections.

Palestinians voiced outrage over the Emirati move, calling it a betrayal of their fight for statehood.

“It must be quite demeaning for Arab leaders to be asked to join a meaningless WH spectacle to serve as a backdrop/prop to help a white supremacist Islamophobe win elections,” Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian politician, said on Twitter.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Emirates’ move as “nonsense.”

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