Leaders discuss establishing ties with Israel at UN meet

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Disputes between Israelis and Palestinians have been debated at UN headquarters for the past seven decades. This year’s General Assembly was no exception, with leaders offering their views on the enduring crisis.

The 2020 gathering, an online event due to the Covid-19 pandemic, came on the heels of a deal to establish ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain — the first Arab states to make the move in a quarter-century.

United States President Donald , his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and other statesmen lauded the Abraham Accord, as the deal is known.

For Mr Trump, the accord was a big selling point in his UN speech. The deal, brokered by the US and inked on the White House lawn earlier this month, was a “landmark breakthrough” after “decades of no progress” in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

It heralded the “dawn of the new Middle East,” Mr Trump said on Tuesday.

In his pre-recorded address, Mr Macron on Tuesday said he welcomed the “legitimate recognition” of Israel by the two Gulf states, which he called a “pledge of hope for the future”.

Mr Macron described a tough “path back to decisive negotiations” for Palestinians, who seek an independent state based on borders before a 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.

US President Donald Trump speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2019. Reuters

US President Donald Trump is shown on a monitor during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2019 in New York. AFP

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs walks through the hallway during the general debate of the 74th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations at United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA. The annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations runs until 30 September 2019. EPA

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks with his delegation during the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. AFP

US Vice-President Mike Pence arrives for the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. AP Photo

Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. AFP

King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan speaks at the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly in New York City. World leaders are gathered for the 74th session of the UN amid a warning by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his address yesterday of the looming risk of a world splitting between the two largest economies - the U.S. and China. Getty Images

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives for a luncheon hosted by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. AP Photo

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S. Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. AFP

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, U.S. Erdogan used his speech to reinforce his image as a champion of the underdog -- and particularly of Muslims he says are being oppressed. Bloomberg

President Donald Trump meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. AP Photo

President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. AP

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha talks with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the start of an annual luncheon for heads of state on the sidelines the general debate of the 74th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. EPA

President Hassan Rouhani, right, meets Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters. AP

President Hassan Rouhani, right, meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations. AP

US President Donald Trump and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres talk at the start of an annual luncheon for heads of state on the sidelines the general debate of the 74th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. EPA

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European Council President Charles Michel said “rapprochement” would boost regional “peace and stability”. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the “historic diplomatic achievement” could flip the script on future Middle East peace talks.

We want “more realism to be introduced into the way this issue is perceived within the UN,” Mr Babis said on Friday.

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced support for the deal, saying in an opinion article on Wednesday that the “significant political development” could help “overcome decades of estrangement and mistrust”.

Bahrain’s King Hamad called the deal a “courageous” bid to boost peace talks.

During his virtual address to the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, affirmed the UAE’s “total rejection of the annexation of Palestinian territory.”

“With the signing of a historic peace accord with Israel supported by American efforts, my country was able to freeze the annexation decision and open broad prospects to achieve a comprehensive peace,” Sheikh Abdullah said.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior Members of Congress. Wam

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior Members of Congress. Wam

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior Members of Congress. Wam

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Oval Office. Courtesy MOFAIC

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, right, US President Donald Trump, centre, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. Courtesy MOFAIC

From left, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed. Courtesy MOFAIC

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani. Courtesy MOFAIC

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed wave from the Truman Balcony at the White House. AFP

Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed participate in the signing of the Abraham Accord. AFP

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed after the signing. AFP

Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed hold up documents as they participate in the signing of the Abraham Accord. AFP

US President Donald Trump watches as UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed speaks from the Truman Balcony at the White House during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accord. AFP

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed speaks as President Donald Trump looks on before the signing of Abraham Accord on the South Lawn of the White House. AP Photo

President Donald Trump speaks on the South Lawn of the White House as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani look on during the signing ceremony of Abraham Accord. AP Photo

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, centre, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani stand on the Blue Room Balcony during the signing ceremony. AP Photo

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, left, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani shortly before participating in the signing of the Abraham Accord. AFP

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, centre, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani pose before they participate in the signing of the Abraham Accord on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC. AFP

US President Donald Trump speaks from the Truman Balcony at the White House during the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accord. AFP

President Donald Trump walks to the Abraham Accord signing ceremony at the White House with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani. AP Photo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at the White House to attend the Abraham Accord signing ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump. EPA

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed meets US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, before the signing of Abraham Accord. AFP

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed met US President Donald Trump, not in picture, at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed meets US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. AFP

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed meets US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed with by President Donald Trump at the White House. Mustafa Alrawi / The National

UAE delegation led by Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed with US President Donald Trump at the White House. Mustafa Alrawi / The National

US President Donald Trump welcomes UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to the White House in Washington DC. EPA

US President Donald Trump welcomes UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to the White House. AFP

US President Donald Trump welcomes UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to the White House. Reuters

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner walks away following a television interview on the North Lawn at the White House in Washington. Reuters

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome the arrival of Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington DC. AFP

A delegation of senior UAE officials led by Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed prepares to depart for the White House to sign the Abraham Accord. Courtesy MFAIC

US President Donald Trump welcomes Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani. AFP

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani arrives at the White House in Washington DC. AFP

US President Donald Trump welcomes Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP

Preparations at the White House for the signing of the Abraham Accord. The National

Preparations under way at the White House for the signing of the Abraham Accord. The National

Preparations under way at the White House for the signing of the Abraham Accord. The National

Preparation at the White House for the signing of the Abraham Accord. The National

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu conveyed similar optimism towards the agreements during his address, expressing his belief that they “will bring our peoples the blessings of peace and the enormous benefits that come with more trade, more investment, more commerce, transportation, tourism, increased cooperation in so many other areas.

“I also have no doubt that more Arab and Muslim countries will be joining the circle of peace, soon, very soon,” he added.

Behind the scenes, Trump administration officials were pushing for more Arab states to follow suit, said UN envoy Kelly Craft. Speaking with Al Arabiya on Wednesday, she said “more countries” would join the two Gulf states, without naming them.

Warming ties were on display in New York. Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan met his UAE counterpart Lana Nusseibeh for the first time on Wednesday. They agreed to work together at the UN to promote women’s rights and tackle online extremism.

Several Middle Eastern leaders addressed the UN without mentioning the accord. Others called on the need to implement the Saudi-proposed Arab Peace Initiative from the early 2000s, which offered Israel normalised ties only after it had withdrawn from Palestinian land.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday said there had to be a respect for “terms of reference of a comprehensive, lasting and just solution”. He called for a UN-led international meet on Middle East peace early next year to deliver on Palestinian hopes.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, rebuffed criticism, saying the accord would strengthen the Emirati role in promoting a two-state solution and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“It will contribute to our joint efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state,” Dr Gargash said in an online session of the Asia Society, a New York-based think tank, on Thursday.

Officials in the UAE note that the accord stopped Israel’s planned annexation of occupied Palestinian land, and did not represent a departure from support for the creation of a future, independent Palestinian state.

The UN assembly in normal years draws some 10,000 people from around the world. Yet this year it was attended only by representatives already based in New York. But that was unthinkable at a time when countries imposed strict entrance requirements to halt the spread of Covid-19, which has claimed more than 1 million lives.

Updated: September 30, 2020 01:33 PM

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