Cabinet ratifies UAE treaty, sends Bahrain agreement to Knesset for approval

Landmark accord to establish ties with Emirates will enter into force once government in Abu Dhabi issues ratification decree

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

PM Netanyahu addresses the cabinet before it votes on the peace treaty with the UAE, October 12, 2020 (GPO)
PM Netanyahu addresses the cabinet before it votes on the peace treaty with the UAE, October 12, 2020 (GPO)

The government on Sunday officially ratified Israel’s normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, sealing a landmark treaty that is opening Israel to the Gulf and redrawing the contours of the Middle East.

The government also okayed a deal with Bahrain to establish ties and sent it to the Knesset for approval.

“What we’re doing is making peace out of strength, peace for peace, ecoomics for economics,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his ministers before the vote, calling the two agreements “historic.”

“Today we are expanding the circle of peace,” he added. “Additional countries will yet join only if we consistently adhere to this policy. It has brought us results that we could only dream about, and I dream about much more.”

The fact that Arab countries are normalizing relations with Israel is a direct result of a “clear policy that I have been leading in recent years, with great intensity, in many efforts both open and concealed, over the years,” Netanyahu said.

“I cannot discuss all of the meetings, efforts and paths that we have taken. However, it is completely clear that there is a change here in the concept that says the only way to reach normalization and peace agreements with the Arab world is to do things that would endanger the security of Israel, would pull us back to the indefensible 1967 lines, would uproot over 100,000 Jews and would divide Jerusalem.”

The prime minister said he always believed that “there is another way and that way would, in the end, bring us to reconciliation with considerable parts of the Arab world, and in the end, to a change and sobering up among the Palestinians, to making a realistic peace with them — and not the peace that would endanger our very existence.”

The so-called “Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations, and Full Normalization Between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel,” which was signed on September 15 at the White House, will enter into force as soon as the government in Abu Dhabi ratifies the agreement as well. It is expected to do so by issuing a decree.

Once both parties have ratified the agreement, the treaty will be transmitted to the secretary-general of the United Nations for registration in the UN Treaty Series, a massive compendium of international treaties.

In parallel, Israeli and Emirati officials are currently negotiating various bilateral agreements, including about the opening of embassies and visa exemptions for visitors from both countries.

On October 15, the Knesset approved Israel’s normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates by an overwhelming majority, after nearly nine hours of at-times stormy debate, during which more than 100 ministers and MKs spoke.

Only 13 parliamentarians — all from the Arab-majority Joint List — voted against the agreement, criticizing it as a scheme to undermine the Palestinian people.

The flags of the US, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Bahrain are screened on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, on September 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, the ministers also voted to send Israel’s normalization agreement with Bahrain for approval to the Knesset.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin disembark from a plane upon their arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

If a majority of lawmakers approve the “Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic, Peaceful and Friendly Relations,” as is widely expected, the agreement will return to the cabinet for final ratification.

Last week, Israeli and Bahraini official met in Manama and signed eight bilateral agreements, including the Joint Communiqué.

The Joint Communiqué — the centerpiece of the budding Israeli-Bahraini friendship — is not legally a treaty, but rather a “framework agreement,” Israeli officials said, stressing, however, that with the signing Israel and Bahrain formally established diplomatic relations.

However, as the agreements contain several obligations on Israel’s part, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit required ratification.

In this September 15, 2020 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan pose for a photo on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are set to become the third and fourth Arab nations to establish lasting diplomatic relations with Israel, following the peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. On Friday, Sudan announced that it had agreed to normalize relations with the Jewish state as well, though no formal document has been signed yet.

Netanyahu appeared to confirm over the weekend that Israel has given its consent for the United States to sell F35 fighter jets to the Emirates, though he denied it was part of the normalization agreement.

US Air Force F-35A Lightning II’s at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates on Nov. 16, 2019 (Joshua Williams/US Department of Defense)

The prime minister has repeatedly insisted the deal establishing ties with the UAE amounted to “peace for peace” and that arms deals were not part of the agreement. But Emirati officials have indicated there were understandings on the matter, and President Donald Trump has said the US was considering the Emirati request for the planes.

Speaking to reporters Saturday night, Netanyahu said the sale only came up after the diplomatic pact with the UAE was signed at the White House last month.

“Only after signing the agreement, the Americans told us that the Emirates, which always asks for F-35s, is asking permission from us to consider this thing practically,” Netanyahu said.

“Only yesterday did we give our approval to this deal,” Netanyahu added.

Times of Israel staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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