(Bloomberg) -- The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed landmark agreements on Tuesday to move toward establishing normal relations with Israel, setting in motion a potentially historic shift in Mideast politics at a White House ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump.
The accords were sealed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and foreign ministers from the two Gulf Arab states. The agreements make UAE and Bahrain just the third and fourth Mideast nations to formally recognize Israel, joining Egypt and Jordan.
“After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House attended by hundreds of guests including the former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and the president’s former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley.
“Thanks to the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity,” Trump said.
He said the three countries would exchange embassies and “work together so strongly as partners to cooperate across the broad range of sectors,” including tourism, trade, health care and security.
The president and his allies have touted the agreements as evidence of Trump’s deal-making credentials as they seek to burnish his resume with less than 60 days before Election Day. White House officials have expressed hope that more countries in the region will follow, which they believe would put pressure on the Palestinians as well as Iran, a regional rival to both Israel and Sunni Arab states.
Trump said other Mideast nations he didn’t name would soon join the accords and that his administration is in talks with Palestinian leaders about including them, though they have publicly denounced the agreements.
“They’ve come a long way,” he said in a meeting with Netanyahu before the ceremony. “The Palestinians will absolutely be a member,” he said, quickly adding: “At the right time.”
Yet the specifics of the agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain remained unclear as of the signing ceremony. And though they share similarities to the peace accords Israel brokered decades ago with Egypt and Jordan, the deals recognize long-standing informal ties between the Jewish state and the Gulf nations rather than an end to armed conflicts.
The agreements are not expected to directly address the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but they represent a regional move away from tying the Jewish State’s relationship with its Arab neighbors to the fate of Palestinian territories.
“The blessings of the peace we make today will be enormous,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “First because this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately, it will end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.”
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed said at the ceremony, in Arabic, that “today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East, a change that will send hope around the world.”
The audience at the White House included Oman’s ambassador to the United States and other foreign emissaries as well as many Republican members of Congress. About a dozen Democratic members of Congress also attended, according to the White House.
Few of the guests wore masks as a precaution against coronavirus infection, and some who did -- including Haley and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin -- were seen taking them off before the ceremony began.
In addition to the individual pacts between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, the three countries will sign a separate document with the U.S. called the “Abraham Accords,” named after the Biblical patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Skeptics have questioned how much the deals will expand trade and financial ties between Israel and the Gulf states, beyond direct flights, and whether the accords will pave the way for the opening of embassies.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden last month praised the agreements as a “welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship,” but said it was made possible by the work of the Obama administration, in which he served as vice president.
Trump earlier Tuesday in an interview with Fox News slammed former President Barack Obama’s handling of the Middle East, saying the nuclear deal he brokered with Iran would have led to Israel being “wiped off the face of the earth.” Trump announced in 2018 he would withdraw the U.S. from the deal.
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