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Abraham Accords Fall Short Of Becoming 'The Deal Of The Century'


We are going to turn to another story just now. The Trump administration put on an elaborate ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House today to celebrate what it calls a new Middle East. Two Arab states agreed to normalize ties with Israel in part to show a united front against Iran. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Initially, the White House was trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the, quote, "deal of the century," but the Palestinians were not among those signing the so-called Abraham Accords today. It was the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreeing to open diplomatic and economic ties with Israel. President Trump staged an elaborate ceremony to mark the occasion.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.

KELEMEN: Neither Bahrain nor the United Arab Emirates were at war with Israel; they had been working quietly together to counter Iran. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the U.S. president.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: You have unequivocally stood by Israel's side. You have boldly confronted the tyrants of Tehran. You've proposed a realistic vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

KELEMEN: Palestinians see the deals as a betrayal by their Arab allies and an effort by the Trump administration to undermine the Arab Peace Initiative. That plan calls for normalization with Israel after the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. The Trump administration took a different approach, says Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

AARON DAVID MILLER: They've reserved all the honey for Israel in key Arab states and all the vinegar for the Palestinians.

KELEMEN: The idea is that as Arab states normalize ties with Israel and get big arms deals with the U.S., they will put pressure on the Palestinians to make peace with Israel on terms more favorable to Netanyahu. Miller says it's known as the outside-in approach, and he recalls numerous conversations about this with Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

MILLER: It was just easier for them. It was more attractive for them. It was much more in keeping with the pro-Israeli sensibilities, both for political reasons and - in the case of Mr. Kushner and others - emotionally, to align themselves with this outside-in approach.

KELEMEN: It's starting to pay off, but the Trump administration is still short of its ultimate prize, Miller says, getting Saudi Arabia on board.

MILLER: My only concern is that they've hyped and hoopla-ed (ph) it to the point where that may not yet be warranted. But if other Arab states join the party, particularly the Saudis, then I think you've got something that will be much more enduring.

KELEMEN: The Arab foreign ministers say they are not turning their backs on Palestinians. Emirati Abdullah bin Zayed, speaking through an interpreter, reminded Netanyahu that he agreed to suspend plans to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.


ABDULLAH BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN: (Speaking non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of the state of Israel, thank you for choosing peace and for halting the annexation of Palestinian territories, a decision that reinforces our shared will to achieve a better future for generations to come.

KELEMEN: In this time of a pandemic, the men didn't wear masks as they signed their deals with Israel. They did, however, avoid a public handshake. And while the ceremony was taking place at the White House, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two rockets into southern Israel.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.