Secretary Blinken to meet Israel, Arab leaders as US hails normalization

WASHINGTON (AFP): President Joe Biden s administration will meet Friday with Israeli and Arab leaders to celebrate a normalization accord overseen by Donald Trump one year ago, calling it a step toward peace with the Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken s virtual meeting with his counterparts from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco marks a full embrace of what former president Trump considered one of his top foreign policy legacies.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the administration was “thrilled to celebrate” the anniversary of the Abraham Accords, using the name given by the Trump administration from which the Biden team earlier shied away.

“We strongly support these agreements and we look forward to advancing other opportunities to expand cooperation between Israel and countries around the world,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“We also hope that as Israel and other countries in the region join together in common effort to build bridges and create new avenues for dialogue and exchange, we re able to make tangible progress towards the goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

Critics of the Trump approach had accused him of advancing Arab reconciliation with Israel as a substitute for meaningful efforts to advance the rights of the Palestinians, who refused mediation by the previous administration which it saw as biased.

Trump broke long taboos in Middle East diplomacy to support Israel including by moving the US embassy to hotly contested Jerusalem, which nearly no other country recognizes as the Jewish state s capital.

The United Arab Emirates, followed quickly by Bahrain and Morocco, became the first Arab states in decades to normalize relations with Israel, which earlier reached peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

Notably absent from Friday s commemoration is Sudan, whose new civilian-backed government — desperate for US support — promised Trump to move forward with Israel but has since been hesitant in the face of public opposition.

The Arab states  warming to Israel came after Trump promised state-of-the-art F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates and broke longstanding US policy by recognizing Morocco s claims to Western Sahara.

Biden has not changed either decision, although his administration says it is attaching greater oversight on sales to the Emirati military.