Israel approves first new settler homes since suspending annexation, NGO says

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel approved more than 1,300 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Peace Now settlement-monitoring group said, in the first such go-ahead since it suspended annexation plans in the territory.

The decision drew an angry response from Palestinians, who seek to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

“We urge the international community to intervene immediately to stop this settlement madness, which destroys any chance for a genuine peace process,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The construction could help mute criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from settler leaders, who are traditional allies.

They had bristled at the annexation suspension that helped pave the way for last month’s deals to forge diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Peace Now said a planning committee in Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank gave final approval for building 1,357 housing units in several settlements.

A spokesman for the administration could not immediately confirm the numbers.

A statement from Beit El settlement said 350 new housing units would be built there. It hailed the committee’s decision as “a tremendous achievement for Beit El”.

The forum, which last held such a hearing eight months ago, was due to reconvene on Thursday to advance additional construction projects in settlements and give final approval for others.

Peace Now said the committee was set to move forward with projects comprising at least 4,430 new settler homes.

Most countries view settlements Israel has built in territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal and as an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The United States and Israel dispute this.

Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank and around 450,000 of its settlers live there, among 3 million Palestinians.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Mike Collett-White)

Kuwait bids farewell to late ruler and pillar of Arab diplomacy as new emir takes over

By Ahmed Hagagy

KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait on Wednesday laid to rest late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a Gulf Arab elder statesman who helped steer his nation through some of the region’s most turbulent decades, in funeral rites closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns.

The only leader of fellow Gulf Arab states in attendance was the emir of Qatar, which has been boycotted by Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, in a dispute that Sheikh Sabah, 91, tried until his death to resolve.

His successor and brother, Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, 83, headed the rites after being sworn in at parliament, pledging to work for the OPEC member state’s prosperity, stability and security.

“Our dear nation today faces difficult situations and dangerous challenges that can only be overcome … by unifying ranks and working hard together,” he told the National Assembly.

Sheikh Nawaf takes the reins of the small wealthy nation, which holds the world’s seventh-largest oil reserves, at a time when low crude prices and the coronavirus have strained the finances of a country with a cradle-to-grave welfare system.

His succession is not expected to change oil or investment policy and he is seen maintaining a foreign policy that saw Kuwait balance ties with larger neighbors Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

Dignitaries from around the world paid respects to Sheikh Sabah, a seasoned diplomat and savvy politician widely respected as a humanitarian who strove to heal rifts in the Middle East, mending ties with former occupier Iraq and championing the Palestinian cause.

“He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the humanitarian cause,” Britain’s Queen Elizabeth said in a statement tweeted by Buckingham Palace.

“DIFFICULT TIMES”

Sheikh Sabah, who died on Tuesday in the United States were he was hospitalized since July, had ruled the U.S.-allied country since 2006, and steered its foreign policy for over 50 years.

Sheikh Nawaf was at the airport when the plane brought the body back home, wrapped in a white shroud and the Kuwaiti flag.

Sheikh Sabah was buried in Sulaibikhat cemetery alongside his kin, after prayers at Bilal bin Rabah mosque where mourners, including Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, all wore face masks.

The UAE said it was represented by its deputy premier, who is also interior minister, and the minister of tolerance and coexistence, both members of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.

When Kuwait’s previous emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, died in 2006, thousands of Kuwaitis attended the funeral and many, along with expatriates, lined the streets.

“I am sure all the men would have loved to go … and we as women would have loved to somehow pay tribute to our emir,” Khadija, a Kuwaiti fitness instructor, told Reuters.

“I wish we could have young leadership and new visions … I want to see change in our economy, education, and implementation of many promises that didn’t take place,” she said, adding that other Gulf states saw change under a new generation of leaders.

Sheikh Nawaf, who lacks the diplomatic skills of his predecessor, is likely to focus on domestic matters such as naming a crown prince who would manage ties with a parliament that has often clashed with the government and hindered economic reform efforts, diplomats and analysts say.

Under the constitution, the emir chooses the crown prince but traditionally the ruling family, some of whose senior members have been jostling for the position, convenes a meeting to build consensus. Parliament also has to approve the choice.

“I don’t expect big change under Sheikh Nawaf. We have big problems and some may be resolved but I’m not very optimistic,” said Mohammed Abu Ghanem, a 45-year-old Kuwaiti.

(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy, Dahlia Nehme, Lisa Barrington, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

After UAE and Bahrain deals, is Saudi Arabia softening its stance on Israel?

By Marwa Rashad and Aziz El Yaakoubi

RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – When one of Saudi Arabia’s leading clerics called this month for Muslims to avoid “passionate emotions and fiery enthusiasm” towards Jews, it was a marked change in tone for someone who has shed tears preaching about Palestine in the past.

The sermon by Abdulrahman al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, broadcast on Saudi state television on Sept. 5, came three weeks after the United Arab Emirates agreed a historic deal to normalize relations with Israel and days before the Gulf state of Bahrain, a close Saudi ally, followed suit.

Sudais, who in past sermons prayed for Palestinians to have victory over the “invader and aggressor” Jews, spoke about how the Prophet Mohammad was good to his Jewish neighbor and argued the best way to persuade Jews to convert to Islam was to “treat them well”.

While Saudi Arabia is not expected to follow the example of its Gulf allies any time soon, Sudais’ remarks could be a clue to how the kingdom approaches the sensitive subject of warming to Israel – a once inconceivable prospect. Appointed by the king, he is one of the country’s most influential figures, reflecting the views of its conservative religious establishment as well as the Royal Court.

The dramatic agreements with the UAE and Bahrain were a coup for Israel and U.S. President Donald Trump.  But the big diplomatic prize for an Israel deal would be Saudi Arabia, whose king is the Custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, and rules the world’s largest oil exporter.

Marc Owen Jones, an academic from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, said the UAE and Bahrain’s normalization has allowed Saudi Arabia to test public opinion, but a formal deal with Israel would be a “large task” for the kingdom.

“Giving the Saudis a ‘nudge’ via an influential imam is obviously one step in trying to test the public reaction and to encourage the notion of normalization,” Jones added.

In Washington, a State Department official said the United States was encouraged by warming ties between Israel and Gulf Arab countries, viewed this trend as a positive development and “we are engaging to build on it.”

There was no immediate response to a request by Reuters for comment from the Saudi government’s media office.

Sudais’ plea to shun intense feelings is a far cry from his past when he wept dozens of times while praying for Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque – Islam’s third-holiest site.

The Sept. 5 sermon drew a mixed reaction, with some Saudis defending him as simply communicating the teachings of Islam. Others on Twitter, mostly Saudis abroad and apparently critical of the government, called it “the normalization sermon”.

Ali al-Suliman, one of several Saudis interviewed at one of Riyadh’s malls by Reuters TV, said in reaction to the Bahrain deal that normalization with Israel by other Gulf states or in the wider Middle East was hard to get used to, as “Israel is an occupying nation and drove Palestinians out of their homes”.

MUTUAL FEAR OF IRAN

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de-facto ruler often referred to as MbS, has promised to promote interfaith dialogue as part of his domestic reform. The young prince previously stated that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land on condition of a peace agreement that assures stability for all sides.

Saudi Arabia and Israel’s mutual fear of Iran may be a key driver for the development of ties.

There have been other signs that Saudi Arabia, one of the most influential countries in the Middle East, is preparing its people to eventually warm to Israel.

A period drama, “Umm Haroun” that aired during Ramadan in April on Saudi-controlled MBC television, a time when viewership typically spikes, centered around the trials of a Jewish midwife.

The fictional series was about a multi-religious community in an unspecified Gulf Arab state in the 1930’s to 1950’s. The show drew criticism from the Palestinian Hamas group, saying it portrayed Jews in a sympathetic light.

At the time, MBC said that the show was the top-rated Gulf drama in Saudi Arabia in Ramadan. The show’s writers, both Bahraini, told Reuters it had no political message.

But experts and diplomats said it was another indication of shifting public discourse on Israel.

Earlier this year, Mohammed al-Aissa, a former Saudi minister and the general secretary of the Muslim World League, visited Auschwitz. In June, he took part in a conference organised by the American Jewish Committee, where he called for a world without “Islamophobia and anti-Semitism”.

“Certainly, MbS is intent on moderating state-sanctioned messages shared by the clerical establishment and part of that will likely work towards justifying any future deal with Israel, which would have seemed unthinkable before,” said Neil Quilliam, associate fellow with Chatham House.

ISOLATED PALESTINIANS

Normalization between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, which will be signed at the White House on Tuesday, has further isolated the Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has not directly addressed Israel’s deals with the UAE and Bahrain, but said it remains committed to peace on the basis of the long-standing Arab Peace Initiative.

How, or whether, the kingdom would seek to exchange normalization for a deal on those terms remains unclear.

That initiative offers normalized ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

However, in another eye-catching gesture of goodwill, the kingdom has allowed Israel-UAE flights to use its airspace. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who has a close relationship with MbS, praised the move last week.

A diplomat in the Gulf said that for Saudi Arabia, the issue is more related to what he called its religious position as the leader of the Muslim world, and that a formal deal with Israel would take time and is unlikely to happen while King Salman is still in power.

“Any normalization by Saudi will open doors for Iran, Qatar and Turkey to call for internationalizing the two holy mosques,” he said, referring to periodic calls by critics of Riyadh to have Mecca and Medina placed under international supervision.

(Additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia, Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; editing by Maha El Dahan, Michael Georgy and William Maclean)

Pompeo says Trump administration eager for end to Gulf rift

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed on Monday for a solution to the three-year rift between the Gulf state of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, saying the Trump administration was eager to see it resolved.

Speaking at a State Department meeting with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Pompeo said it was important to concentrate on countering Iranian activity in the Middle East.

“To keep our focus on this work and to close the door to increased Iranian meddling, it’s past time to find a solution to the Gulf rift,” Pompeo said.

“The Trump administration is eager to see this dispute resolved and to reopen Qatar’s air and land borders currently blocked by other Gulf states. I look forward to progress on this issue.”

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing terrorism. Qatar denies the charge and has accused its neighbors of seeking to curtail its sovereignty.

Kuwait and the United States have tried to mediate the rift, which has undermined Washington’s efforts to confront Iran, which is struggling for regional supremacy with Saudi Arabia.

The boycotting nations have set 13 demands for lifting the boycott, including closing Al Jazeera television, shuttering a Turkish military base, reducing ties with Iran and cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East, David Schenker, said last week there could be some progress within weeks in resolving the rift, citing signs of “flexibility” in negotiations.

With Trump’s facing re-election on Nov. 3, he is eager to show foreign policy successes in the Middle East, and last month the UAE agreed to normalize ties with Israel under a U.S.-brokered deal scheduled to be signed at a White House ceremony on Tuesday. Bahrain joined the UAE in agreeing to normalize relations with Israel on Friday.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Tom Brown)

Stop or suspend West Bank annexation? Devil in the detail for Israel-UAE deal

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA/ABU DHABI (Reuters) – A difference between English and Arabic versions of a trilateral statement after an historic flight from Israel to the UAE has been seized upon by Palestinians to suggest the Gulf state has overstated Israeli readiness to drop West Bank annexation plans.

The English version of a joint communique by the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the United States in Abu Dhabi on Monday said the accord had “led to the suspension of Israel’s plans to extend its sovereignty”.

But the Arabic version, carried by the UAE state news agency WAM, said “the agreement … has led to Israel’s plans to annex Palestinian lands being stopped”.

The discrepancy was highlighted by Palestinians after President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner flew with U.S. and Israeli delegations on the first Israeli commercial flight to the UAE to cement the normalization accord, the first by a Gulf state.

“Compare yourself the two versions… suspension of extending sovereignty, not stopping annexation of Palestinian lands,” tweeted Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation on Tuesday.

The UAE has portrayed the accord, announced by Trump on Aug. 13, as a means to halt Israeli annexation of occupied West Bank lands, where Palestinian hope to build a future state.

Jamal Al-Musharakh, chief of policy planning and international cooperation at the UAE foreign ministry, said the difference in wording was merely a translation issue.

“If anyone can think of a better synonym than ‘Eeqaf’ (stopping) for ‘suspending’, then please let me know,” he told reporters.

“One of the prerequisites of the commencing of bilateral relations was the halting of the annexation,” said Musharakh. The Emirati government did not respond when asked for further comment.

But Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official, said it was a “forked tongue” attempt to influence public opinion in the Arab world.

“NO CHANGE IN MY PLAN”

“I don’t think it is a problem of translation, I think it is a disingenuous way of trying to manipulate the discourse,” she told Reuters.

“The Arabic translation is a way of misleading Arab public opinion by saying they have succeeded in stopping the annexation, while actually they suspended it.”

In recent election campaigns Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to West Bank areas, including Jewish settlements, but said he needed a green light from Washington.

Speaking in Hebrew and using the biblical terms for the West Bank, Netanyahu told Israelis on Aug. 13 – the day the deal was announced: “There is no change in my plan to apply our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States. I am committed, it has not changed.”

Keeping annexation hopes alive is widely seen as Netanyahu’s attempt to placate his right-wing voter base. Settler leaders have accused him of repeatedly floating annexation, only to cave in to international pressure.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on Wednesday said it had nothing to add to the original Aug 13. statement, which said: “As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough …Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace.”

The White House declined to comment on the UAE trip communique, but a U.S. source familiar with the matter said the White House was not responsible for the Arabic translation.

At the briefing to reporters in Washington after the Aug 13 announcement Trump said annexation was “right now off the table,” and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman added: “The word suspend was chosen carefully by all the parties. ‘Suspend’ by definition, look it up, means a temporary halt. It’s off the table now but it’s not off the table permanently.”

During his UAE trip this week Kushner also used the word “suspend”.

“Israel has agreed to suspend the annexation, to suspend applying Israeli law to those areas for the time being,” he told the WAM agency. “But in the future it is a discussion that I am sure will be had. But not in the near future.”

Kushner hopes another Arab state normalizes Israel ties within ‘months’

DUBAI (Reuters) – White House adviser Jared Kushner hopes another Arab country normalizes ties with Israel within months, he said, after arriving in the United Arab Emirates accompanied by Israeli officials on the first commercial flight between the countries.

No other Arab state has said so far it is considering following the UAE, which agreed to normalize ties with Israel in a U.S.-brokered deal announced on Aug. 13. Several have ruled out normalization under current conditions.

Israel’s neighbors Egypt and Jordan reached peace deals with it decades ago, but other Arab states have long held the position that Israel must agree to give more land to the Palestinians for a state before ties can be normalized.

Israel and the United States have said they are pushing more Arab countries to follow the UAE’s path. Israel’s intelligence minister has mentioned Bahrain and Oman. Kushner will next visit Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on his Gulf tour.

Asked by UAE state news agency WAM when the next Arab state could normalize ties, Kushner, son-in-law to President Donald Trump, was quoted as saying: “Let’s hope it’s months.”

The UAE-Israel deal was welcomed by some Gulf countries but has been met by overwhelming Palestinian opposition.

(Writing by Alexander Cornwell and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Peter Graff)

Israel, UAE will cooperate on financial services, investment

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed on Tuesday to set up a joint committee to cooperate on financial services, aiming to promote investment between the two countries, an Israeli statement said.

An Israeli delegation is in Abu Dhabi on a historic trip to finalize a pact marking open relations between Israel and the Gulf state.

Representatives from both countries signed the understanding, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the statement.

One focus, Netanyahu said, would be on “cooperation in the field of financial services and removing financial barriers for making investments between the countries, as well as promoting joint investments in the capital markets”.

The countries will also collaborate in banking services and payment regulations, he said.

Separately, the state-run Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) and Invest in Israel, part of the economy ministry, agreed to set out a plan to establish formal cooperation between then, they said in a joint statement.

“The organizations will explore mutually beneficial areas of collaboration to unlock investment and partnership opportunities for companies in Israel and Abu Dhabi with a strong focus on innovation and technology,” they said.

An initial virtual meeting was held between Ziva Eger, Invest in Israel chief executive, and Monira Hisham al-Kuttab who leads ADIO’s international promotional activity. Further meetings are scheduled throughout September.

“Israel’s ecosystem has a lot to offer to the UAE’s economy in terms of innovation, specifically in the Life Sciences, CleanTech, Agtech and Energy sectors,” Eger said in the statement.

ADIO Director General Tariq Bin Hendi said ADIO’s investor care team would “facilitate connections throughout Abu Dhabi’s ecosystem” and explore opportunities over the coming months.

Israeli officials have been quick to play up the economic benefits of the accord, which once formalized would also include agreements on tourism, technology, energy, healthcare and security, among other areas.

A number of Israeli and Emirati businesses have already signed deals since the normalization deal was announced.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Yousef Saba; editing by Ari Rabinovitch, Larry King, William Maclean)

Israeli, U.S. officials land in UAE, Kushner urges Palestinians to negotiate

By Dan Williams and Lisa Barrington

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Senior U.S. and Israeli officials landed in the United Arab Emirates on Monday on a historic trip to finalize a pact marking open relations between Israel and the Gulf state, and they told Palestinians it was now time for them to negotiate peace.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner also said on arrival that Washington could maintain Israel’s military edge while advancing its ties to the UAE, the Arab world’s second largest economy and a regional power.

In apparently unrelated incidents, two blasts at restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai killed three people earlier in the day in what authorities said were the result of gas malfunctions. The Abu Dhabi government told residents “to avoid spreading rumors” about the blasts, and “use official news sources”.

Announced on Aug. 13, the normalization deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was forged largely through shared fears of Iran.

Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, seeing it as a betrayal that would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position which calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

Kushner said Palestinians should not be “stuck in the past”.

“They have to come to the table. Peace will be ready for them, an opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they are ready to embrace it,” said Kushner, part of a U.S. delegation that accompanied Israeli officials on the first official Israeli flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE.

Kushner and national security adviser Robert O’Brien head the U.S. delegation. The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates will discuss economic, scientific, trade and cultural cooperation on the visit. Direct flights between the two countries will also be on the agenda, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told al Arabiya television after landing in Abu Dhabi.

Even before landing, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.

“That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Netanyahu tweeted, describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

ARABIC GREETING

Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a signing ceremony in Washington, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

That could give U.S. President Donald Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.

The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, while opening its airspace to the El Al flight, has signaled it is not ready.

On board the packed airliner, passengers were welcomed in Arabic as well as English and Hebrew, a gesture marking the historic flight.

“Wishing us all salaam, peace and shalom, have a safe flight,” the pilot, Captain Tal Becker, said on the intercom, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, using all three languages to also announce the flight number and destination.

Like all El Al 737s, the aircraft was equipped with an anti-missile system, an Israeli spokesman said, and carried security agents of the U.S. Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet.

Palestinian leaders expressed anger at a deal which they believe further erodes their struggle for an independent state.

“Peace is not an empty word used to normalize crimes and oppression. Peace is the outcome of justice,” politician Saeb Erekat said in a Tweet.

“Peace is not made by denying Palestine’s right to exist and imposing an apartheid regime. Apartheid is what Netanyahu means by “peace for peace.”

The Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, also condemned the UAE.

The flight represented a “stab in the back of the Palestinian people, a prolonging of the occupation, and a betrayal of the resistance of the (Palestinian) people,” Hamas said in a statement.

Hours before the plane landed, three people were killed and several others were injured in two separate explosions in Abu Dhabi and UAE tourism hub Dubai, police and local media said.

The Abu Dhabi government media office said two people were killed in the blast in the capital, which the National daily reported hit KFC and Hardee’s restaurants, which are located on a main road leading to the airport.

In a second incident, one person was killed when a gas cylinder exploded in a Dubai restaurant, local media reported.

(Reporting by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by William Maclean)

Pompeo reassures Netanyahu U.S. will ensure Israel’s military advantage

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States will ensure Israel retains a military advantage in the Middle East under any future U.S. arms deals with the United Arab Emirates, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday.

“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to qualitative military edge. We will continue to honor that,” Pompeo told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said he had been reassured on the issue by Pompeo, who began a Middle East visit in Jerusalem that will showcase U.S. support for Israeli-Arab peace efforts and building a front against Iran. It will also include Sudan, the UAE and Bahrain.

A U.S.-brokered deal on normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE was announced on Aug. 13. But there has been some dissent in Israel over the prospect of the Gulf power now obtaining advanced U.S. weaponry such as the F-35 warplane.

Speaking on CNN on Saturday, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said the UAE had been trying to get the F-35 for a long time.

“This new peace agreement should increase the probability of them getting it. But it’s something we’re reviewing,” he said.

Pompeo said Washington had provided the UAE with military support for more than 20 years, measures he described as needed to stave off shared threats from Iran – also Israel’s arch-foe.

“We’re deeply committed to doing that, to achieving that and we’ll do it in a way that preserves our commitment to Israel and I’m confident that objective will be achieved,” Pompeo said.

Bruised by the U.N. Security Council’s rejection of a U.S. draft resolution for extending an arms embargo on Iran, the Trump administration is seeking a “snapback” of U.N. sanctions that had been eased as part of a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

“We are determined to use every tool that we have to ensure that they (Iran) can’t get access to high-end weapons systems,” Pompeo said. “We think it’s in the best interest of the whole world.”

The Palestinians warned the Trump administration against trying to sideline them in the Middle East diplomatic push.

“Recruiting Arabs to recognize Israel and open embassies does not make Israel a winner,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in an interview with Reuters. “You are putting the whole region in a lose-lose situation because you are designing the road for a forever conflict in the region.”

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Angus MacSwan)

Sudan confirms ‘contacts’ with Israel, says UAE move is ‘brave’

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan on Tuesday confirmed having contacts with Israel, saying the United Arab Emirates’ decision to normalize relations with Israel is “a brave and bold step”, according to its foreign ministry spokesman.

Under the U.S.-brokered deal announced last week, the UAE becomes just the third Arab country to forge full relations with Israel in more than 70 years. The pact could reshape Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.

In February, Israeli officials said Israel and Sudan had agreed to move towards forging normal relations for the first time during a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s military-led, transitional sovereign council, in Uganda.

“The Emirates’ move is a brave and bold step and contributes to putting the Arab world on the right track to build peace in the region and to build sustainable peace,” Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Haydar Sadig told Reuters by phone on Tuesday, confirming remarks made earlier to regional media.

“I cannot deny that there are contacts between Sudan and Israel,” he added.

Netanyahu welcomed the remarks, saying on Twitter: “Israel, Sudan and the entire region will benefit from the peace agreement (with the UAE), and together can build a better future for all people in the region. We will do whatever is necessary to turn this vision into a reality.”

Back in February, Burhan confirmed the meeting with Netanyahu but cast doubt on any rapid normalization of ties, saying Sudan’s stance on the Palestinian issue remains unchanged, and that relations between the two countries was the responsibility of the civilian cabinet in Khartoum.

Scores of Sudanese protesters condemned Burhan’s meeting with Netanyahu in February. Under the long rule of Islamist strongman Omar al-Bashir until his fall in a popular uprising in 2019, Khartoum counted among hardline Muslim foes of Israel.

Sadig said any normalization of relations with Israel would not be at the expense of “Sudan’s moral values and independence” and be “according to Sudan’s interests”.

“We will not accept unequal relations with Israel.”

Israel says it expects other Gulf Arab countries and Muslim nations in Africa to follow in normalizing ties after its breakthrough with the UAE.

(Aditional reporting Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)