/‘You can’t turn a battleship around overnight’: Jared Kushner downplays Saudi silence on Israel-UAE deal

‘You can’t turn a battleship around overnight’: Jared Kushner downplays Saudi silence on Israel-UAE deal

A deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize diplomatic ties should be celebrated as a “historic step,” despite the lack of support from Saudi Arabia, according to White House senior advisor and U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Under the accord announced Thursday, which the U.S. helped to broker, Israel agreed to suspend plans to annex some areas of the occupied West Bank. It also shores up opposition against Iran, a regional power in the Middle East which the U.S., Israel and the United Arab Emirates all view as the main threat to stability.

Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally and a hugely influential power when it comes to regional policy toward Israel, has remained eerily quiet on news of the accord.

“I do think that we have other countries that are very interested in moving forward,” Kushner told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in an exclusive interview on Friday, referring to diplomatic ties with Israel. 

“And then, as that progresses, I do think it is an inevitability that Saudi Arabia and Israel will have fully normalized relations and they will be able to do a lot of great things together,” he added.

When pressed on Saudi Arabia’s silence following the announcement of the deal, Kushner replied: “We just had the first peace agreement in 26 years and now you’re saying: ‘Well, we want to get somebody else on board right away’.” In 1994, Israel and Jordan agreed a peace deal. 

“Saudi Arabia has obviously been a great leader in making (modernization) but you can’t turn a battleship around overnight,” he added.

The deal makes the United Arab Emirates the first Persian Gulf state to normalize ties with Israel and only the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have open diplomatic ties with the country.

On Thursday, Trump described the agreement as a “huge breakthrough” between two “great friends” of the U.S., while Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move could pave the way for other Arab countries to sign up to the accord.

The United Arab Emirates’ minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Thursday that the peace deal was a “win-win” solution.

The European Union also welcomed the move, saying it would likely help to promote stability in the region.

However, the agreement has been denounced by officials in Palestine, Iran and Turkey. Palestine’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates was recalled shortly after the announcement.

Kushner said during a press briefing on Thursday that Palestine’s condemnation of the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was “fairly predictable.”

Palestine has repeatedly urged Arab leaders not to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel until a peace deal to establish an independent Palestinian state has been secured.

Peace deal ‘doesn’t change’ election dynamics

To some, the agreement is seen as a foreign policy win for Trump, who is behind in the polls against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden ahead of November’s election.

Trump has made peace in the Middle East a signature element of his first term, though his administration had made little substantial progress.

“I think what we’ve done is we’ve set the stage for a lot of progress in the region by looking at it based on common sense, pragmatism, and joint interests and a common vision for a better future,” Kushner said Friday.

“We’ve taken some of the old tumors that have infected the region and we have shrunken them down over the last years,” he added, saying “everything we’ve done has been rational.”

Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.

Oliver Contreras | Sipa | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ayham Kamel, head of Eurasia Group’s Middle East and North Africa practice, said in a note that: “For Trump, the deal directly goes after Joe Biden’s strength. The president will trumpet that he achieved a diplomatic breakthrough that the Obama/Biden administration couldn’t.”

“The announcement (of the deal) doesn’t change our views of the election dynamics, which will be dominated by the economy and coronavirus. The announcement will excite the Evangelical Christian community in Trump’s base but would probably not have a major energizing effect overall,” Kamel added.

Biden praised the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates without mentioning Trump administration officials.

“The coming together of Israel and Arab states builds on the efforts of multiple administrations to foster a broader Arab-Israeli opening, including the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to build on the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said in a statement.

— CNBC’s Natasha Turak & Tucker Higgins contributed to this report.

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