White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Friday that the two Trump-brokered normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will allow Muslim countries to prioritize their own national interests over those of the Palestinians.
During a phone briefing with reporters after it was announced that Bahrain would follow the UAE in signing a deal with Israel, Kushner highlighted the inclusion of clauses in both agreements, as well as in the Trump peace plan, that affirm Israel’s commitment to allow all Muslims to visit and pray at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque.
“This will reduce tension in the Muslim world and allow people to separate the Palestinian issue from their own national interests and from their own foreign policy, which should be focused on their own domestic priorities,” Kushner said.
The mosque is located on the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City. The compound is revered by both Jews as the site of the Biblical Temples, the holiest place in Judaism, and by Muslims who call it Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.
While Israel has security control of the site, having annexed the area after capturing it in the 1967 war, the actual administration is handled by the Islamic Waqf Council, a Jordanian-appointed body, that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It claims exclusive authority over the Temple Mount compound and says it is not subject to Israeli jurisdiction.
Large numbers of Palestinians often gather at the site, especially for Friday prayers, and it has long been a flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinians.
Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, said Friday that Israel’s control of the holy site has been “distorted by the extremists… to divide people, and they’ve used the fact that the mosque is ‘at risk’ or ‘under attack’ by the Israelis as a way to drive hatred and keep people apart.”
Kushner said that thanks to Israeli “tolerance,” and as a consequence of the Trump administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East, that would no longer be the case.
“Through these agreements, all Muslims throughout the world can travel to Israel whether it’s through the UAE or through Bahrain,” he continued. “Those people will be able to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque and show their friends on Facebook and on Instagram that it’s open, and that Israel’s respectful of their religion,” Kushner said.
The joint statement from Israel, Bahrain and the US that was distributed by the White House on Friday states that “Israel affirmed that… all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the al-Asqa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites will remain open for peaceful worshipers of all faiths.”
Joint Statement of the United States, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the State of Israel pic.twitter.com/xMquRkGtpM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 11, 2020
Such entry will likely require special visas, according to the Haaretz daily, which noted that Israel rarely grants such approvals to citizens of Egypt and Jordan with whom the Jewish state has long maintained peace treaties. Since the UAE-Israel accord was announced on August 13, however, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has highlighted Israel’s commitment to granting access for Muslim worshippers.
Given that the Israel-UAE agreement last month included a commitment from Israel to suspend plans to annex large parts of the West Bank, as well as signals from Washington that it would now be willing to sell high-grade military technology to Abu Dhabi, reporters pressed Kushner regarding what Bahrain would be receiving in exchange for taking the step.
“We have a different relationship with Bahrain than we have with the UAE. They’re both very special and unique in their own way… This is about pushing the region forward,” Kushner said, before going on to praise Manama for hosting the unveiling of the economic portion of the Trump peace plan last year.
He then pointed out the existence of a synagogue in Bahrain, adding that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has “been a real champion for tolerance” in the region. Kushner said that on his visit to Bahrain last week, he gave the monarch a Torah scroll that was “written in his honor.”
Returning to the issue of military weapons sales, Kushner noted that the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and that the Trump administration would continue to strengthen its presence there.
He said that “these countries hopefully over time can spend less money on military equipment because they can have more vibrant economies, fewer threats and a more inter-connected region.”
Kushner said that Israel has had little direct contact with Bahrain in recent years and that thanks to US efforts, the two sides would now be able to work on “getting to know one another” before moving on to hammering out the exact details of the normalization agreement.
Later on in the phone briefing, Kushner enthused that the normalization deal brokered last month between Israel and the UAE had “been more popular than we expected, which is why this next agreement came so quickly.”
“More and more countries are rushing to figure out how they can do more good things for their citizens,” he said. “It’s an inevitability that all countries in the Middle East will normalize with Israel.”
The normalization agreement was first announced by Trump on his Twitter account on Friday afternoon.
A joint statement released by the White House said Bahrain’s king spoke earlier in the day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “and agreed to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain.”
Israel and the UAE announced they were normalizing relations on August 13, and a signing ceremony for their accord is being held at the White House on September 15. Bahrain will now join that ceremony, with its foreign minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and Netanyahu signing “a historic Declaration of Peace,” the joint statement said.