International Criminal Court rules it has jurisdiction over Palestinian territories

By Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court ruled on Friday that it has jurisdiction over war crimes or atrocities committed in the Palestinian Territories, paving the way for a criminal investigation, despite Israeli objections.

The decision prompted swift reactions from both Israel, which is not a member of the court and again rejected its jurisdiction, and the Palestinian Authority, which welcomed the ruling.

The ICC judges said their decision was based on rules in the Hague-based court’s founding documents and does not imply any attempt to determine statehood or legal borders.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in December 2019 there was “a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

She said she intended to open an investigation — as soon as judges ruled on whether the situation fell under the court’s jurisdiction or not.

In a majority ruling published Friday night, the judges said it does.

“The Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” they said.

That Palestine’s status under international law is still uncertain does not matter, the judges said, as it has been admitted to membership of parties to the court.

In a reaction, Human Rights Watch called the decision “pivotal” and said it “finally offers victims of serious crimes some real hope for justice after a half century of impunity,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director.

“It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted, saying “the court is ignoring the real war crimes and instead is pursuing Israel, a country with a strong democratic regime, that sanctifies the rule of law, and is not a member of the tribunal.”

He added Israel would “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution.

“The court in its decision impairs the right of democratic countries to defend themselves,” Netanyahu said.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was a “historic day for the principle of accountability.”

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, described the decision as “an important development that contributes in protecting the Palestinian people.”

“We urge the international court to launch an investigation into Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people,” said Abu Zuhri, who is currently outside Gaza.

The United States has “serious concerns” about the ICC’s effort to assert jurisdiction over Israeli personnel in the Palestinian territories, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, adding the U.S. government was reviewing the ruling.

ICC prosecutor Bensouda was expected to react later on Friday.

The Trump administration had vehemently opposed the ICC and its mission. Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said U.S. President Joe Biden should do nothing to undermine the ICC’s independence.

“It’s important to remember that the ICC investigation would also target Palestinian perpetrators of war crimes in the context of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, especially in the Gaza Strip,” Dakwar said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Anthony Deutsch, Stephanie van den Berg, Ari Rabinovitch, Stephen Farrell, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Arshad Mohammed, Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Daniel Wallis)

Analysis: What will survive of U.S.-Middle East policy under Biden?

By Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub

TRUMP HEIGHTS, Occupied Golan Heights (Reuters) – Trump Heights, Trump Square, Trump train terminal: Israel isn’t shy about honoring Donald Trump, who is widely admired among Israelis for his staunch support of their country.

But in the Palestinian territories, no U.S. president was openly reviled as much as Trump, or depicted in such unflattering terms in portraits and effigies across the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

In four years, Trump overturned decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Joe Biden will want to undo many of those changes during his presidency, but his freedom for maneuver will be limited.

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, signaled that countering Iran would be central to Biden’s Middle East agenda.

But Blinken said the United States was “a long way” from rejoining the 2015 pact with Iran – restraining Tehran’s nuclear program – which the United States quit under Trump.

Biden and his team have said they will restore ties with the Palestinians that were cut by Trump, resume aid and reject unilateral actions, such as construction of Israeli settlements on occupied territory.

But Blinken said the U.S. embassy in Israel would remain in Jerusalem, which Trump recognized as Israel’s capital.

Four Trump-brokered diplomatic deals between Israel and Arab states are also likely to remain – they have bipartisan support in Washington and brought a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.

So too is Trump’s acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

Biden’s challenge will be how to walk back not just Trump-era policy – and the polarization triggered by the man who said he had “done a lot for Israel” – without being accused of retreating altogether from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“He will try to project an image of fairness and balance,” Michele Dunne, Director of the Middle East Program at the U.S. based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters.

“There is no question that Biden’s policies towards the Middle East will be quite different from those of Trump; the question is how different they will be from those of (former President Barack) Obama… I doubt that Biden sees the conflict as ripe for U.S. diplomacy right now.”

TRUMP AND NETANYAHU

Trump was broadly in lockstep on Middle East policy with his closest ally in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As well as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Trump backed Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory that the Palestinians seek for a state.

Israel’s investment in its West Bank settlements between 2017-2019 increased by almost half against the last three years in office of Obama, according to official Israeli data provided to the U.S. State Department and seen by Reuters.

One day before Biden’s inauguration, Israel issued tenders for more than 2,500 settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, on top of hundreds more announced by Netanyahu last week.

Relations with the Palestinians reached a new low after Trump cut off $360 million annual funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency dealing with Palestinian refugees, reduced other aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington D.C.

Blinken returned to long-standing, pre-Trump, diplomatic norms at his senate hearing.

“The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution,” Blinken said.

But he added: “Realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”

In Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini was optimistic of change, and that things might ease up for the Palestinian refugees that his agency cares for.

“We indeed have informal contact with the incoming new administration. We heard all the messages we are receiving that there are intentions to resume the partnership,” he told Reuters.

THE TRUMP BRAND

For many Israelis, the Trump brand has not been tarnished by the Capitol Hill riot on Jan. 6.

In Trump Heights, a tiny Golan Heights settlement, work is underway to house 20 new families who will move in by the summer. A giant black and gold sign at the gate has been restored after vandals stole the ‘T’.

“We are keeping the name Trump Heights, we are proud of the name. President Trump deserves gratitude for all the good deeds he did for us,” Golan Regional Council Head Haim Rokach told Reuters.

An Israeli cabinet minister this week reaffirmed his support for Trump’s name to adorn a future train terminus near Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and at Trump Square roundabout in Petah Tikva he remains popular. “We will miss him,” said Alon Sender. “He was good for Israel.”

(Additional reporting by Rami Amichay, Adel Abu Nimeh, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams and Ali Sawafta, Writing by Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Netanyahu orders more settler homes built

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered construction plans advanced on Monday for some 800 Jewish settler homes in the occupied West Bank, anchoring the projects in the final days of the pro-settlement Trump administration.

Palestinians condemned such construction as illegal. The timing of the move appeared to be an attempt to set Israel’s blueprint in indelible ink.

Moving ahead with the projects could help shore up support for Netanyahu from settlers and their backers in a March 23 election, Israel’s fourth in two years, in which the conservative leader faces new challenges from the right.

An announcement by Netanyahu’s office said about 800 homes would be built in the settlements of Beit El and Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem, and in Tal Menashe, Rehelim, Shavei Shomron, Barkan and Karnei Shomron in the northern West Bank. It gave no starting date for construction.

The Trump administration has effectively backed Israel’s right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held U.S. position that they break international law. Trump has also delighted Israeli leaders and angered Palestinians by recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there.

Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said Netanyahu wants the settlement move “to be set in stone before the Biden administration comes into office, and maybe changes Israeli-American tacit understandings on settlements that existed under Trump.”

Netanyahu also wants to tell voters he is “the only leader who can stand up to Biden and make sure he doesn’t dictate our policy in the (Palestinian) territories,” Talshir said.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, all land captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

Most countries view Israeli settlements as violating international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and biblical links to the West Bank, where more than 440,000 Israeli settlers now live among 3 million Palestinians who have limited self rule under Israeli occupation.

As vice president under Barack Obama, Biden was put in an uncomfortable position during a visit to Israel in 2010 when Israel announced plans for a settlement in a West Bank area annexed to Jerusalem. Arriving 90 minutes late for dinner with Netanyahu, Biden condemned the decision as undermining U.S.-Israeli trust.

(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Peter Graff)

Bahrain open to imports from Israeli settlements

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Bahrain’s imports from Israel will not be subject to distinctions between products made within Israel and those from settlements in occupied territory, the Bahraini trade minister said on Thursday, drawing a rebuke from the Palestinians.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates formalized ties with Israel on Sept. 15, in a U.S.-sponsored deal billed by the Gulf countries as being made possible by Israel’s shelving of a plan to annex West Bank settlements. Most world powers deem them illegal.

But Bahrain’s Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani voiced openness to settlement imports.

“We will treat Israeli products as Israeli products. So we have no issue with labelling or origin,” he told Reuters during a visit to Israel.

Under European Union guidelines, settlement products should be clearly labelled as such when exported to EU member countries. The Trump administration last month removed U.S. customs distinctions between goods made within Israel and in settlements.

Al-Zayani’s remarks were condemned by Wasel Abu Youssef of the Palestine Liberation Organization as “contradicting international and U.N. resolutions”.

He urged Arab countries not to import products from within Israel, either, in order to prevent it “stretching into Arab markets to strengthen its economy”.

The stateless Palestinians hope to create their own independent country in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but the issue of Jewish settlements on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War has long been a stumbling block in the now-stalemated peace process.

They now fear that the warming ties between Gulf states and Israel, along with Trump’s strong support for Israel, have badly damaged their aspirations.

It was not clear what other Gulf states’ positions on imports from the settlements were. But an Israeli winery that uses grapes grown on the occupied Golan Heights said in September that its labels would be sold in the UAE.

Israel expects trade with Bahrain worth around $220 million in 2021, not including possible defense and tourism deals.

Al-Zayani said Bahraini carrier Gulf Air was tentatively scheduled to begin flights to Tel Aviv on Jan. 7, with shipping to follow.

“We are fascinated by how integrated IT and innovation sector in Israel has been embedded in every facet of life,” he said.

He played down speculation in Israel that its citizens visiting Bahrain could be at risk of reprisals for the assassination last Friday of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, which Tehran blamed on Israeli agents.

“We don’t see any threats, and therefore we don’t see any requirement for additional security or special treatment for Israelis,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Pompeo visits Israeli-occupied West Bank and Golan Heights

By Rami Amichay and Ali Sawafta

SHAAR BINYAMIN, West Bank (Reuters) – Mike Pompeo on Thursday paid the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, in a parting show of solidarity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the outgoing Trump administration.

Palestinians accused Pompeo of helping Israel to cement its control over West Bank land that they seek for a state after he made a trip to the Shaar Binyamin winery near the settlement of Psagot, just north of Jerusalem.

To Israel’s delight and Palestinian dismay, Pompeo in 2019 broke with decades of American foreign policy to announce that the U.S. under President Donald Trump no longer viewed Israel’s settlements as “inconsistent with international law”.

Palestinians and much of the world regard the settlements as illegal under international law.

After meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday morning Pompeo travelled to the West Bank to visit the settler winery, which has a blend named after him.

He also issued guidelines for Israeli products made in settlements to be labelled “Made in Israel” or “Product of Israel” when imported to the United States, removing the distinction between products made within Israel and those produced in occupied territory.

Pompeo’s visit departed from past policy that had kept top U.S. officials away from settlements, which Palestinians view as obstacles to a viable future state.

Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi accused Pompeo of using Trump’s final weeks in office “to set yet another illegal precedent, violate international law and perhaps to advance his own future political ambitions”.

“Pompeo is intoxicated by apartheid wine stolen from Palestinian land. It is opportunistic and self-serving, and it damages the chances for peace,” Ashrawi told Reuters.

Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, also denounced his labelling announcement.

“This is totally rejected. It reaffirms the partnership between President Trump and the occupation,” he said.

It is unclear whether Trump’s decision on settlements would be reversed by a Biden administration, amid Israeli concerns he will take a tougher line on the issue.

GOLAN HEIGHTS

Before heading to the West Bank, Pompeo said he also intended to visit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In 2019 Trump formally recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the area of the strategic plateau that it captured from Syria in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognized by the United Nations and most countries.

“The simple recognition of this as part of Israel, too, was a decision President Trump made that is historically important and simply a recognition of reality,” Pompeo said on Thursday.

The Palestinian leadership cut ties with Trump White House three years ago, accusing it of pro-Israel bias.

But many Israelis viewed Trump’s election defeat with dismay, and his close ally Netanyahu waited 10 days after Joe Biden declared victory to speak with the Democratic candidate and refer to him as president-elect.

Pompeo said Washington would also step up action against pro-Palestinian efforts to isolate Israel economically and diplomatically.

“I want you to know that we will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) conduct and withdraw U.S. government support,” he said.

“We will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said. BDS supporters dispute that, saying they are against all forms of racism.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Pompeo had falsely equated peaceful support for boycotts of Israel with antisemitism.

“Instead of combating systemic racism and far-right extremism in the United States, the Trump administration is undermining the common fight against the scourge of antisemitism by equating it with peaceful advocacy of boycotts,” said Eric Goldstein, the group’s acting Middle East and North Africa director.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Maayan Lubell, Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Rami Ayyub in Bethlehem; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Stephen Farrell, Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

Israeli settlers pray for Trump re-election at biblical tomb

HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) – Jewish settler leaders prayed on Monday for U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election, citing his support for Israel, during a ceremony at a biblical tomb in the occupied West Bank that has been a flashpoint of conflict with the Palestinians.

“We have come to bless President Trump, both for the past, to thank him, but also for the future, that he succeeds in the coming election,” Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Hebron settlers, said at the Cave of the Patriarchs burial site.

One of those interred there, according to tradition, is Abraham, who is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Hoping to encourage coexistence between Jews and Palestinians, the Trump administration has named the Israeli-Arab rapprochement that it has been brokering the “Abraham Accords”.

But Trump, a Republican running against Democratic former vice president Joe Biden in Tuesday’s election, has been shunned by Palestinians for perceived bias since he broke with global consensus by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

His administration has also softened U.S. disapproval of Israel’s settlements on land where the Palestinians want to establish a state, and which most world powers deem illegal.

A rabbi officiating at Monday’s ceremony prayed for God to secure Trump “four more years”, citing the president’s “commitment to the preservation and strengthening of the people of Israel, the state of Israel and the land of Israel”.

A Trump peace plan stirred some settler anger, however, by proposing that Palestinians get a state on 70% of the West Bank.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Ahead of U.S. poll, Trump ends a U.S. restriction applying to Israeli settlements

ARIEL, West Bank (Reuters) – The Trump administration lifted a decades-old ban on Wednesday that had prohibited U.S. taxpayer funding for Israeli scientific research conducted in Jewish settlements in occupied territory, drawing Palestinian condemnation.

With Tuesday’s U.S. election approaching, President Donald Trump’s move was praised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and could resonate with evangelical Christian voters who support Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

The West Bank settlement of Ariel, the site of an Israeli university, was chosen as the venue for a ceremony opening a new avenue of U.S. scientific cooperation with Israeli researchers.

Palestinians, who seek the West Bank for a future state, said the move made Washington complicit in what they termed Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.

In Ariel, Netanyahu and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, revised three agreements reached between 1972 and 1977, enabling researchers in settlements to apply for U.S. government funds. They also signed a new scientific and technology cooperation accord.

Under the now-lifted prohibition, research money for Israelis could not be distributed in areas such as the West Bank that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries view permanent settlements on such land as a violation of the Geneva Conventions, though Israel disputes this.

“The Trump vision … opens Judea and Samaria to academic, commercial and scientific engagement with the United States,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony in Ariel, using biblical names for West Bank territory.

“This is an important victory against all those who seek to delegitimize everything Israeli beyond the 1967 lines.”

Friedman said $1.4 billion had been invested by three U.S.-Israeli research cooperation funds since 1972.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said lifting of the funding ban represented “American participation in the occupation of Palestinian lands.”

The Trump administration last year effectively backed Israel’s right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held U.S. position that they were “inconsistent with international law”.

At the ceremony, Netanyahu again praised Trump for his “successful approach to bringing peace to our region”, citing U.S.-brokered deals for diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab states.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Graff)

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)

Trump to host Israel-United Arab Emirates deal-signing ceremony on Sept 15

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will hold a Sept. 15 signing ceremony for a groundbreaking Middle East agreement normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, a senior White House official said on Tuesday.

As part of the deal, announced at the White House on Aug. 13 following what officials said were 18 months of talks, the Gulf state agreed to normal relations with Israel, while Israel agreed to continue with plans to suspend its annexation of the West Bank.

The senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan would lead the two delegations to the ceremony.

“I am proud to embark next week to Washington, at the invitation of President Trump, to take part in the this historic ceremony at the White House for the foundation of the peace treaty between Israel and the United (Arab) Emirates,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

Trump and other administration officials have said they expect Saudi Arabia and other countries to follow suit in recognizing Israel.

Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and other top administration officials accompanied an Israeli delegation last week on the first flight from Israel to the United Arab Emirates to celebrate the agreement.

Iran has dismissed the agreement, which also served to firm up opposition to Tehran, a regional power seen by the UAE, Israel and the United States as the main threat in the Middle East.

The deal falls short of any grand Middle East peace plan to resolve decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians despite Trump’s pledge to do so.

The White House hope is that more such deals between Israel and the Gulf states will emerge, prompting the Palestinians to join negotiations.

Trump proposed a peace plan in January that heavily favored the Israelis, but it has not advanced in any significant way.

The Palestinian leadership initially called the accord “betrayal” and a “stab in the back of the Palestinian cause,” but has curbed its criticism, according to a draft resolution ahead of an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Wednesday.

The draft, seen by Reuters, does not include a call to condemn, or act against, the Emirates over the U.S.-brokered deal.

The United Arab Emirates is planning to make its first official visit to Israel on Sept. 22, a source familiar with the provisional itinerary said on Monday.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller)

Israel, UAE to normalize relations in shift in Mideast politics, West Bank annexation on hold

By Maha El Dahan, Jeffrey Heller and Steve Holland

DUBAI/JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced on Thursday that they will normalize diplomatic ties and forge a broad new relationship, a move that reshapes the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.

Under the accord, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker, Israel has agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank. The agreement also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the conflict-riven Middle East.

Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, did not recognize Israel and had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it until now. The UAE becomes the first Gulf Arab country to reach such a deal with the Jewish state.

The agreement was the product of lengthy discussions between Israel, the UAE and the United States that accelerated recently, White House officials said.

A joint statement said Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed had “agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates”.

“This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region,” the statement said.

In a separate statement, the crown prince stressed that the agreement would stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories, which Israel has said had been awaiting a green light from Washington.

The agreement, to be known as the Abraham Accords, also gives Trump a foreign policy accomplishment as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.

“HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

In the White House Oval Office, Trump said similar deals are being discussed with other countries in the region.

The UAE said it would remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people and that the agreement maintained the viability of a two-state solution to the longstanding Israel-Palestinian conflict. There was no immediate reaction from the Palestinians, who hope to create an independent state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said the agreement represented a “historic day” for his country. It could also be a personal boost to Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption and whose domestic popularity has dropped over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A senior Israeli official said applying Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank was still on the agenda, adding, “The Trump administration asked us to temporarily suspend the (sovereignty) announcement so that the historic peace agreement with the UAE can be implemented.”

‘NIGHTMARE’ FOR IRAN

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a trip to Central European countries, said: “This is an enormous, historic step forward. Peace is the right path forward.”

Trump’s special envoy Brian Hook called the deal a “nightmare” for Iran.

There was no immediate response from the Iranian government but the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, called the accord “shameful”.

Iran and Israel are arch foes. Israel is particularly concerned about suspected Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies. Iran is also involved in proxy wars from Syria to Yemen, where the UAE has been a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition opposing Iran-aligned forces there.

With a population of less than 10 million but the Arab world’s second-largest economy thanks to oil, the UAE has exerted growing commercial and military clout in the Gulf and the wider region over the past two decades, much of it aimed at confronting Islamist militants and the influence of Iran.

U.S. lawmakers have tried to rein in Trump administration plans for arms sales, particularly to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for use in the war in Yemen.

MORE DEALS IN PIPELINE?

Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications and other issues, the statement said.

The two countries, which agreed in June to cooperate in the fight against the coronavirus in a sign of closer ties, are expected soon to exchange ambassadors and embassies.

The joint statement said that “as a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty” over areas of the West Bank that were envisioned in a U.S. plan announced by Trump in January.

A signing ceremony including delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates is due to be held at the White House in the coming weeks.

“Everybody said this would be impossible,” Trump said. “After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations.”

Trump added, “This deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East. Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead.”

This was already being discussed with other states, he said.

The agreement envisions giving Muslims greater access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem by allowing them to fly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, White House officials said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed “any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East region,” a U.N. spokesman said.

Guterres had urged Israel in June to abandon plans to annex settlements in the West Bank, warning that this threatened prospects for peace with the Palestinians.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Lisa Barrington, Steve Holland in Washington; Jeff Heller in Jerusalem, Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Will Dunham)