US will continue to encourage normalisation with Israel: Blinken

Top US diplomat outlines steps to ‘widen the circle’ of normalisation that do not include peace with Palestinians.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says normalisation 'club is open for new members' [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

The Biden administration will build on the “successful efforts” of its Donald Trump-led predecessor to encourage more countries to normalise ties with Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

Speaking at a virtual event on Friday celebrating the first anniversary of the normalisation agreement between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – which later included Morocco, Sudan and Kosovo – Blinken outlined steps Washington will take to strengthen the accord.

The plan did not include pushing to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“First, we’ll help foster Israel’s growing ties with Bahrain, with Morocco, with the United Arab Emirates, as well as with Sudan, which has also signed the Abraham Accords, and Kosovo, which established ties with Israel at the beginning of the year,” Blinken said.

He added that the US administration will “deepen Israel’s long-standing relationships” with Egypt and Jordan, which normalised ties with Israel in 1979 and 1994 respectively.

Blinken cited Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent visit to Cairo – the first official trip by an Israeli head of state to Egypt in 10 years.

“Third, we will encourage more countries to follow the lead of the Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco,” Blinken said.

“We want to widen the circle of peaceful diplomacy because it’s in the interests of countries across the region and around the world for Israel to be treated like any other country.”

The Biden administration has previously said that normalisation between Israel and Arab states is “not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace”.

The normalisation agreements have irked Palestinian leaders, who called the deals last year a “stab in the back” to the Palestinian cause.

But Blinken suggested on Friday that normalisation could benefit Palestinians.

“We all must build on these relationships and growing normalisation to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians and to make progress toward the long-standing goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

Still, normalisation has had minimal effect on the course of the conflict, as Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and maintains its blockade in Gaza while acting on policies of home demolition and forced removal against Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

At the virtual event, top officials from Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE praised growing ties with Israel and voiced gratitude for the US role in sponsoring the agreements.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the normalisation “club is open for new members”.

“One of our goals, our common goals, is to make sure that other countries will follow suit and join us in this course and in this new era of cooperation and friendship,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera