WASHINGTON — Israel signed deals to normalize ties with the Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Tuesday that were brokered by President Donald Trump in what is described as a diplomatic breakthrough.
The agreements — called the Abraham Accords — were signed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani during a ceremony at the White House.
“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said, speaking on a balcony over looking the South Lawn where hundreds of attendees gathered. “After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.”
“These agreements prove that the nations of the region are breaking free of the failed approaches of the past,” Trump continued. “The people of the Middle East will no longer allow hatred of Israel to be fomented as an excuse for radicalism or extremism.”
The UAE and Bahrain are the third and fourth Arab states to normalize ties with Israel despite the country not having reached a resolution to the entrenched dispute with the Palestinians. The last peace treaties with Israel were signed by Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. While Netanyahu attended the signing ceremony on Tuesday, the UAE and Bahrain sent their foreign ministers rather than heads of state or government.
Trump said during bilateral meetings before the signings that his administration was in talks with several additional nations on signing similar agreements, but he declined to name the countries when pressed by reporters.
“We’ll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly,” Trump said, adding, “They want to see peace. They’ve been fighting for a long time.”
The leaders gathered during a global pandemic, which Netanyahu briefly mentioned. Like Trump, Netanyahu has also been criticized for his handling of the virus.
“Long after the pandemic is gone, the peace we make today will endure,” Netanyahu said.
White House officials, congress members and other lawmakers gathered on the South Lawn did not keep at a social distance and only some wore face coverings, ignoring District of Columbia’s coronavirus guidelines.
An administration official said the White House initially did not realize 200 reporters had been credentialed for the event and complained about the crush of people flooding the grounds.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who helped negotiate the agreements, said in a statement late Monday, “Instead of focusing on past conflicts, people are now focused on creating a vibrant future filled with endless possibilities.”
The new agreements will see Israel suspend its claim of sovereignty over areas outlined in the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan.
While marking a diplomatic victory for Trump ahead of November’s presidential election, the agreements have outraged Palestinians, sparking protests across the region.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the move, saying on Twitter that it erodes unity between Arab states.
“This day will be added to the calendar of Palestinian pain and the record of Arab fractures,” he said.
Critics warn the new deals also risk undermining the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the Arab League, which called for normalization of ties with Israel on the condition that Israeli forces were withdrawn from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
“Peace which does not include the realization of the rights of all Palestinians will be one without justice,” Shawan Jabarin, general director of the independent Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, said.
Still, the deals are a positive development for the region, setting the stage for increased trade, tourism and diplomacy, Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, told NBC News.
“This is a big moment, it’s an historic moment and we shouldn’t underestimate how important it is,” he said.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
The Gulf states could use the deals to push Israel toward more meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians, who had refused to take part in Trump’s Middle East peace initiative, Mekelberg added.
Israeli officials have previously said the country seeks to expand ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world. Such relations have quietly warmed in recent years as the countries have been pushed together by their common enemy, Iran.
Reuters contributed to this report.