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Another Muslim nation to normalize ties with Israel before Trump bids adieu?


The unrelenting pace of political developments taking place in the Middle East signal a fifth country from the Arab world normalizing relations with Israel before January 20, the day Donald Trump steps down as the President of the United States.

After brokering historic peace agreements between Israel and four Muslim nations — United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — in the past few months as a part of the Abraham Accords, the Trump administration is believed to be going all out to seal another major deal before signing off. This despite the Israeli Knesset (parliament) being dissolved Wednesday. Israel's Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis told Ynet News, one of Israel's largest news websites, that another Muslim country will go public with normalization of ties before January 20.

"We are working in that direction. There will be an American announcement about another country that is going public with the normalization of relations with Israel and, in essence, with the infrastructure for an accord – a peace accord," Akunis said in an interview yesterday. The minister did not reveal the name of the country but said that there are two main candidates — one in the Gulf and the other a Muslim country further to the east "that is not small, but is not Pakistan." The report, however, mentioned that Akunis gave Oman, and not Saudi Arabia, as a possibility in the Gulf.

Experts reckon that a Muslim nation "further to the east" mentioned by the Israeli minister could be Indonesia even though Jakarta has denied normalization of diplomatic ties with Jerusalem and has maintained that there is no change in its stance on the Palestinian issue. Trump administration, meanwhile, is going full steam ahead advancing the Abraham Accords. Earlier this month, the US President brokered a peace agreement between Morocco and Israel making it the fourth such agreement in just four months after UAE, Bahrain and Sudan became the first Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel in over 25 years.

With the striking of the historic agreements, Trump believed that people are "choosing a future in which Arabs and Israelis, Muslims, Jews, and Christians can live together, pray together, and dream together, side by side, in harmony, community, and peace." The US foreign office says that its "wise foreign policy strategy" has created the conditions for peace between Israel and its neighbours and, after decades of instability, the Middle East and Africa are experiencing the most rapid geopolitical transformation in over a generation.

"As more countries normalize relations with Israel — which will happen quite quickly, we believe — the region will become more and more stable, secure, and prosperous," Trump said on December 11 while announcing the Israel-Morocco deal. The US President on Wednesday night also awarded the National Security Medal to his top advisers for their role in brokering the four agreements.

Trump awarded the medal to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, senior adviser Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and John Rakolta, US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. "Thanks to the efforts of these individuals, the region will never be the same as it finally moves beyond the conflicts of the past," Reuters quoted White House as saying in a statement.

From boarding a historic first direct Israel to Morocco commercial flight this week to signing new deals, it is Trump's son-in-law and White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner who is leading the 'new approach' to the Middle East in the government's last few weeks in office. "The results are really what matters and I believe together we've achieved some historic results," said Kushner in Jerusalem on Monday. Given what has happened in the past four months, the Israelis are hoping for more such "historic results" in the coming days.

"The Trump administration has shown that when it comes to expanding Israel's ties with the Arab and Muslim world, every day counts, particularly when such days have brought deals that even half a year ago seemed like mission impossible. So one could only imagine what Trump’'s last month in office might bring. The thought of another deal or two, or even three, before January 20 suddenly seems reasonable and plausible. Yes, even when taking into account both Christmas and New Year's," Tovah Lazaroff wrote in The Jerusalem Post today.