WASHINGTON — Some 700 people are set to attend Tuesday’s ceremony at the White House, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will establish diplomatic relations. Netanyahu hailed the event as “a massive turning point” in Israeli history.
Before the ceremony, Netanyahu will meet at the White House with US President Donald Trump, who brokered the diplomatic breakthrough, according to an Israeli official who briefed reporters accompanying the premier in Washington.
The UAE and Bahrain will be represented at the signing ceremony by their foreign ministers, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, respectively. Trump will meet with each of them separately, as well, ahead of the ceremony.
The Trump administration was also said to be working to get representatives of additional Arab nations to attend the signing ceremony as a sign of tacit support for the growing normalization trend.
Speaking Monday in a video statement from Washington, Netanyahu held up what he said were the draft accords with the UAE and Bahrain.
“We’ve worked on this for many years,” Netanyahu said. “The moment will come tomorrow. This is a massive turning point in the history of Israel, as well as the history of the Middle East. It will have a huge an positive impact on all Israelis.”
He added: “I promise you, from what I see here, that more countries are on the way.”
Netanyahu and Trump are set to hold a bilateral meeting at the White House at 11 a.m. (6 p.m. Israel time), with a four-way meeting with the Emirati and Bahraini foreign ministers set to take place shortly afterwards.
The official ceremony will be held at 12 p.m. (7 p.m. in Israel) on the White House South Lawn, scene of the signing of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians on September 13, 1993. It will be followed by speeches by the leaders and the playing of the countries’ national anthems. They will then hold a dinner event.
Some 700 people will be in the audience, according to Channel 12, which said that among the guests would be former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, billionaire Ron Lauder and former British premier Tony Blair. The station said it was unclear whether Gilad Erdan, Israel’s envoy to the UN, who is also slated to take over as ambassador in Washington, will be in attendance.
Ironically, the well-attended outdoor event comes as Israelis prepare to enter a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
While the texts of the agreements have not yet been released, the Israeli official briefing reporters said that Netanyahu will be signing a “peace treaty” with the UAE and a separate “declaration of peace” with Bahrain.
The former is a treaty with international legal standing, which must be approved by parliament, while the latter is merely a joint statement espousing a commitment to peace.
Discussing the deal with the UAE, the official told reporters, “The difference between this agreement and the ones with Jordan or Egypt is that it does not end a state of war.”
The official declined to reveal whether the agreement would include Israeli commitments regarding the Palestinian issue.
“There’s a lot of sensitivity because we’re talking about four players here, and as such, the details will not be released beforehand,” said the official.
Responding to criticism that the Knesset was not being made privy to the details of the normalization deal with the UAE before it is signed, the official said, “This is standard procedure. First we sign, and then it is brought before the cabinet for approval, followed by the Knesset. That is how it was in the past as well.”
Both agreements with the UAE and Bahrain that will be signed Tuesday mention diverse areas of cooperation planned between the respective countries, the official said.
While the peace deal with the Emiratis will be more detailed than the declaration Netanyahu will sign with Bahrain, there still are issues vis-a-vis the UAE that will be finalized after Tuesday’s ceremony, the official said. These were discussed last week when an Israeli delegation led by National Security Council chairman Meir Ben Shabbat visited Abu Dhabi.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Channel 13 news Monday he’d seen the treaty with the UAE and that it had been drafted “professionally” with the Foreign Ministry. He said it was a “peace for peace” accord, as Netanyahu has described it.
Gantz also spoke with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullah bin Hassan al-Nuaimi, ahead of the ceremony and invited him to visit Israel.
Confirming that Netanyahu would meet with Trump, the Israeli official said that there were no meetings scheduled with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. “[Netanyahu] is closed off at the Blair House,” the official said. “He’s not going anywhere else.”
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a query regarding whether the former vice president was seeking to meet with Netanyahu this week.
Asked Monday morning if the ceremony could have been postponed because of the pandemic, cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Army Radio, “You can’t postpone peace or war.”
Netanyahu — who is Israel’s only government representative at the event, as opposed to UAE and Bahrain, which are each sending up to eight ministers — resumed planning for the upcoming lockdown upon arriving in Washington Tuesday morning, his office said.
“Netanyahu held a conference call consultation on preparations for the lockdown with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch, Ben Shabbat, ‘Magen Yisrael’ director Prof. Ronni Gamzu, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Chezy Levy and other officials,” his office said in a statement including a picture of Netanyahu at his Blair House lodging.
The release was likely designed to respond to critics who have lambasted him for flying to the US for the ceremony, with Israel on the cusp of a major health emergency and a second lockdown.
In his video statement Tuesday evening, Netanyahu said: “Even as I am engaged in this important diplomatic work, I do not forget for a moment that these are difficult days for us all. I managed to speak today with both the finance minister and the health minister, and tomorrow evening as I return to Israel, we will continue to work together for you, the citizens of Israel, so that we might overcome the coronavirus and also bring peace.”
The first normalization agreement, between Israel and the UAE, was announced on August 13 by Trump. According to all three governments in a joint statement, the agreement will see the UAE establishing full ties with Israel, thus bringing a longstanding, but mostly covert, relationship into the open.
The Israel-Bahrain deal was announced on Friday, when a joint statement released by Trump said Bahrain and Israel would join the September 15 ceremony and sign its own Declaration of Peace with Israel. Bahrain had been seen moving closer to Israel in recent years, and last year hosted the rollout of the economic element of the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
The signing ceremony, however, is still one step short of official ratification under Israeli law, which legal experts have said requires the imprimatur of the cabinet and Knesset for official peace treaties.
Responding to a petition calling to bar the accords from going into effect if they are not approved by the cabinet or Knesset, the Prime Minister’s Office said Monday that the normalization agreement with the UAE will only go into effect once it is voted on by the parliament.
“Given the importance of the agreement, the prime minister intends to suggest that the government present it to the Knesset,” a letter from the PMO, published by Walla, said.
In the meantime, the wording of the agreement and the details included within it have yet to be officially published, leading to questions about what Jerusalem has agreed to.
Over the past weeks, a number of Israeli and US media outlets have reported that Netanyahu privately dropped any opposition to the sale of American F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
On Sunday, The Times of Israel reported that the Trump administration gave the UAE a commitment during normalization negotiations that Washington would not recognize Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank until 2024 at the earliest.
Speaking at a faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday, Meretz party chair Nitzan Horowitz said he had heard from “authorized sources” that Israel’s deals with the UAE and Bahrain also included a commitment to place a moratorium on settlement building.
“These agreements are not ‘peace for peace,'” Horowitz said, referring to Netanyahu’s claim that the agreements represent a new paradigm in Israel’s peace-making efforts.
“In stark contrast to Netanyahu’s statements, these agreements, which will be signed in Washington tomorrow, have been explicitly conditioned on an Israeli commitment to prevent operations in the territories that would harm the chances of reaching a two-state solution,” the Meretz chair claimed. “It is proven once again, for the thousandth time: There is no normalization in the Middle East without Israeli agreement on a two-state solution, and there will be no real peace without reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.”
In response, a spokesperson for the prime minister lashed out at Horowitz, a former award-winning journalist with decades of experience, claiming he had no inside information on the deal or its details.
“Horowitz’s sources as a politician are even worse than those he had as a journalist,” said the spokesperson, identified only as a “source in the entourage” of Netanyahu.