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President 'frankly surprised' Ramallah still boycotting him

Trump says another country could be ‘added into’ Israel-UAE signing ceremony

Speaking ahead of September 15 White House event, president doesn’t specify which nation may be next to normalize ties with Jerusalem; says he spoke to Saudi king about accord

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, September 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, September 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Donald Trump said Thursday that another country may join Israel and the United Arab Emirates for their normalization signing ceremony at the White House next week.

“Next week at the White House we’ll be having a signing between the UAE and Israel, and we could have another country added into that. And I will tell you that countries are lining up that want to go into it,” Trump said during a White House press briefing.

“You’ll be hearing other countries coming in over a relatively short period of time. And you could have peace in the Middle East,” he said.

Trump did not elaborate on the country that might be “added into” the signing, and did not specify which countries might attend the Tuesday ceremony, but said that a number of “big ones” are going to “come in,” and mentioned having spoken recently to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

“I spoke to the king of Saudi Arabia, so we’re talking. We just started the dialogue,” Trump said.

It wasn’t clear if Trump meant that another country could join Israel and the UAE at the ceremony, or join their normalization agreement.

In the weeks since the normalization deal was announced on August 13, US and Israeli officials have said other Arab states will follow the UAE’s lead and normalize ties with Israel, with speculation including Oman and Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain agreed to allow Israeli planes to use their airspace following the normalization agreement, in what was seen as a significant step toward warmer relations, but have expressed hesitation about normalization with Israel.

Bahrain’s king told White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is a key player in the normalization push, that Manama would only ink a deal in concert with Saudi Arabia; and Riyadh’s crown prince told Kushner that an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord must precede any normalization agreement, in line with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

“King Salman and the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, they feel very strongly about the Palestinian cause. They would like to see the Palestinians work a fair deal and improve the lives of their people,” Kushner told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday.

“But again, they’re going to do what’s in the best interests of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi people and Muslim people from throughout the world as they take that responsibility very seriously,” Kushner said. “We’ll see what happens and for how long, you know, they want to do it. But I will say that a lot of people are losing patience with the Palestinian leadership.”

For his part, Trump on Thursday made a point in lauding UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his willingness to formalize relations with Israel. Trump called the UAE’s de-facto leader a “warrior” and said “Mohammed’s very excited about this.”

Trump went on to claim that if he wins another presidential term in November, both Iran and the Palestinians will return to the negotiation table.

“If we win the election, Iran will come and sign a deal with us very rapidly. Within the first, I would say week, but let’s give ourselves a month because their GDP went down [by] 25% [as a result of US-led sanctions], which is like an unheard of number and they’d like to get back to having a successful country again,” Trump said.

“And I think… the Palestinians will get back into the fold,” the president continued, admitting that he was “frankly surprised” that Ramallah has continued to boycott his administration since Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

However, he said his administration’s decision to withhold $750 million dollars in annual aid to the Palestinian Authority “is the best way… to bring [the sides] together.”

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