Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords by hailing the “groundbreaking” agreements that saw Israel normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, and move to warm ties with Sudan.
Bennett, who had not publicly commented on the accords since becoming prime minister in June, praised the “new and groundbreaking chapter in the history of peace in the Middle East,” established under his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu and the previous US administration led by Donald Trump.
“The State of Israel will continue to develop, deepen and expand relations between the countries, as well as work to develop relations with other countries in the region,” promised Bennett, in a statement that did not name Netanyahu.
“I would like to thank the leadership of the UAE and of Bahrain for the courage and the daring that enabled the establishment of diplomatic relations, and the American administration which tirelessly led, supported and mediated the success of this achievement,” Bennett added. “Relations between the countries are only at their beginning and are already bearing [much] fruit.”
When the Israel-UAE breakthrough was announced in August 2020, Bennett, then in the opposition, praised it, but also went on to claim that Netanyahu had “missed a once-in-a-century opportunity” to annex large parts of the West Bank. “It is tragic that Netanyahu did not grasp the moment, nor did he muster the courage to apply sovereignty to even an inch of the Land of Israel,” Bennett said at the time.
Bennett has long called for Israel to annex some 60% of the West Bank but lacks support for doing so in the diverse power-sharing coalition he heads with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, which ranges from the premier’s right-wing Yamina party to the left-wing Meretz and Islamist Ra’am.
As part of the agreement with the United Arab Emirates, Netanyahu agreed to suspend unilateral annexation plans. The Times of Israel reported last year that the Trump administration assured the UAE that Washington would not recognize any Israeli annexation until 2024 at the earliest.
Bennett’s comments on Friday came hours before US President Joe Biden’s administration met online with Israeli and Arab leaders to celebrate the normalization deals.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s virtual meeting with his counterparts from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco marks a full embrace of what former president Trump considered one of his top foreign policy legacies.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week the administration was “thrilled to celebrate” the anniversary of the Abraham Accords, using the name given by the Trump administration from which the Biden team earlier shied away.
“We strongly support these agreements and we look forward to advancing other opportunities to expand cooperation between Israel and countries around the world,” Price said.
“We also hope that as Israel and other countries in the region join together in common effort to build bridges and create new avenues for dialogue and exchange, we’re able to make tangible progress toward the goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.
Critics of the Trump approach had accused him of advancing Arab reconciliation with Israel as a substitute for meaningful efforts to advance the rights of the Palestinians, who refused mediation by the previous administration, which they saw as biased.
We’re heralding the one-year anniversary of the signing of the #AbrahamAccords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates & Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain as well as the later agreement between Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco to normalize relations. Mazel Tov & Mabrouk! pic.twitter.com/PBavZG63q2
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) September 14, 2021
The United Arab Emirates, followed quickly by Bahrain and Morocco, became the first Arab states in decades to normalize relations with Israel, which only had peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.
Notably absent from Friday’s commemoration will be Sudan, whose new civilian-backed government — desperate for US support — promised Trump to move forward with Israel last October but has since been hesitant in the face of public opposition.
Biden’s National Security Council director for the Middle East, Barbara Leaf, told Jewish leaders last month that the White House is working on getting the Sudan-Israel deal “over the finish line,” but no progress has been reported.
Sudan declined an invitation to attend a Monday event hosted by the Israeli Mission to the UN marking the one-year anniversary with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. However, its ambassador to the US, Nureldin Satti, was in attendance on Tuesday at a similar event hosted by former Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner. He ducked out early, managing to avoid a group photo of representatives of countries involved in the normalization agreements.
The Arab states’ warming to Israel came after Trump promised state-of-the-art F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates and broke longstanding US policy by recognizing Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara.
Biden has not changed either decision, although his administration says it is attaching greater oversight on sales to the Emirati military.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.