Trump: West Bank annexation off the table, Christianity part of UAE deal

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“Christians have been persecuted by some countries in particular in the Middle East. This [the UAE deal] is a big start, It is going to be a strong start, a very powerful start,” the president said.

US President Donald Trump speaks about a peace deal reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, August 13, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

US President Donald Trump speaks about a peace deal reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, August 13, 2020

(photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

Annexation of the West Bank is “off the table” and Israel has agreed not to do it, President Donald Trump said late Thursday night, breaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had earlier said that the peace deal with the UAE only temporarily delayed application of Israeli sovereignty.

“Israel has agreed not to do it. More than off the table, they have agreed not to do it,” Trump said. “I think that very important. I think it was a great concession by Israel, I think it was a smart concession.”

He added, however, that he could not clarify what would happen in the future, “right now it is off the table.”

Trump said that he hopes to host Netanyahu and the UAE’s leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in he next three weeks at the White House for a ceremony to mark the peace deal.

US Ambassador to the US David Friedman clarified that the word which had been chosen to describe the situation was “suspended” and that word had been chosen “very carefully” because it means a temporary halt. Sovereignty, Friedman said was “off the table” not but not “off the table permanently.”

But at an earlier stage in the conference Friedman noted that the application of sovereignty to West Bank settlements was incompatible with the overall goal of normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world.

Friedman has been one of the strongest supporters of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. On Thursday night, as he spoke with Trump in Washington, he said, however, “we are putting our eggs into the basket  of peace.”

The US Ambassador explained that, “we have an agreement with the Emirates. We are going to nail all the details, embassies, overflights, commercial. Then we are going to extrapolate that to the rest of the region.

“How long that takes, I cannot tell you. But we have prioritized peace over the sovereignty movement. It’s not off the table, it’s just something that has been deferred until we have given peace every single chance.”

When asked if a deal with the UAE could have been reached without Netanyahu’s decision to suspend annexation.

“I think you can’t do both at the same time,” Friedman said. “Prioritize peace. Sovereignty after peace is given every opportunity.”

But, he said, Israel has not been asked to permanently abandoned the idea of annexation.

Protecting Christians in the Middle East is an important part of the nascent peace deal America has brokered between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, US President Donald Trump told reporters in Washington late Thursday as he clarified that West Bank annexation was off the table right now.

“Christians have been persecuted by some countries in particular in the Middle East. This [the UAE deal] is a big start, It is going to be a strong start, a very powerful start” toward protecting Christians in the Middle East, Trump said.

“If you look at the way Christians have been treated in some countries, it is beyond disgraceful. If I had information and if I had absolute proof of some of the stories we have heard, which is not easy to get, I would go in and do a number to those countries, like you would not believe,” Trump said.

As a result protecting Christians in the Middle East would also be a component of future deals that would be signed between Israel and other countries in the region, he clarified.

Christianity “is a very big part of the overall negotiation. As countries come in, the UAE has agreed very strongly to represent us, I think will, very well, with respect to Christianity, because in the Middle East it is not treated well. It is treated horribly and very unfairly,” Trump said.  The president also attempted to clarify some of the confusion with regard to any Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank.

In January the US had unveiled a peace plan that would have allowed Israel to annex up to 30% of the West Bank, but then the Trump administration asked Israel to wait before executing that plan.

On Thursday in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the as a result of the deal, annexation had been delayedbut would move forward.

Trump told reporters he believed that the Palestinians would also come to the negotiating table to make a deal with Israel, because they rely heavily on financial support of countries that are coming to the table.

The Palestinians are “supported by countries we are already talking to. Palestinians will, without saying it necessarily yet, they want to be part of what we are doing. I see peace between Israel and the Palestinians happening, as these big powerful wealthy countries come in, I think the Palestinians will follow quite naturally,” Trump said.

He explained that the deal was also of importance to Muslims of the region, because it would make the al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem – the third most holy site in Ismal — accessible to citizens of those Arab countries who reach peace deals with Israel.

“The deal which was reached today will enable Muslims to have a far greater ability to visit many historic sites in Israel and to peacefully pray at the Al-Aksa Mosque, which is very important to for them [and] which they have wanted to have access to for many decades,” Trump said.

“This a monumental step toward forging ties of cooperation in the Middle East,” he said.

In the coming weeks, he said, he expected to host Netanyahu and the Emirates Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zeid to Washington to sign the deal.

Once signed it would be only the third peace deal Israel has reached with one of its Arab neighbors during its 72-year history. Israel signed a peace deal with Egypt in in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994.

Trump said that the “historic agreement” was a “big day for Israel and a big day for the world” that would allow for “peace in the Middle East.”

“We will not rest as we continue to work toward a world of greater harmony and prosperity for all.”

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