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Kushner and O'Brien at a military base near Abu Dhabi. Photo: Sarah Stewart/AFP via Getty

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Israel-UAE normalization talks are progressing faster than expected and could lead to an additional trilateral pact involving the U.S., officials from all three countries told me following talks in Abu Dhabi.

What's next: Israeli officials said a signing ceremony could take place at the White House before Sept. 18. For now, Israel's national security adviser has invited his Emirati counterpart to visit Israel to continue the talks.

Setting the scene: Officials from all three countries expressed enthusiasm about the pace, atmosphere and results of the talks, and optimism that the U.S.-brokered normalization deal would soon be implemented.

  • One incentive for moving fast is to create momentum in the region, potentially leading additional Arab countries to recognize Israel (only Egypt and Jordan had previously done so).
  • Officials from all three countries also said they hope to get a bonus out of the normalization agreement: a trilateral alliance between the U.S., Israel and UAE.
  • That prospective alliance would focus initially on regional security, but could be broadened to other fields as well.

Behind the scenes: U.S. officials — including Jared Kushner and national security adviser Robert O'Brien — attended almost every breakout session in Abu Dhabi as Israeli and Emirati technical teams discussed investment, finance, health, space, civil aviation, foreign policy and tourism.

  • The most interesting discussion came over dinner Monday night at the presidential palace, hosted by UAE national security adviser Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, attendees told me.
  • The talks underlined the central role of the U.S. in peace-making between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as the Carter and Clinton administrations previously proved with the Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan deals, respectively.
  • But despite the warm feelings from the summit, Israeli and Emirati officials expressed caution about what future relations will look like.

Emirati officials said they hope for a relationship unlike Israel's "cold peace" with Jordan and Egypt.

  • Given the UAE's wealth and development, they contend that a more balanced relationship is possible — but it must be based on respect.
  • Several Emirati officials took umbrage at statements from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians about bringing together Israeli ingenuity and Emirati money.
  • The Emiratis see themselves as the Arab startup nation — sending a probe to Mars, developing a coronavirus vaccine — and say they expect the Israelis to treat them as equal partners.

The other side: Israeli officials acknowledged it will be a challenge to build a deep bilateral relationship with the UAE that's based on trust and mutual interests — and not dependent on “having an American babysitter.”

  • But they said they've been surprised by the Emirati charm offensive, which has involved heavily publicizing the new relationship in domestic media and through outreach to Israeli journalists, some of whom traveled to Abu Dhabi and were granted access to events and officials.
  • Emirati officials say they hope their approach to normalization will lead to more pragmatism across the region.
  • But, but, but: The Emirati decision has been denounced by Palestinian leaders, and countries including Saudi Arabia met the news with cool responses.

Worth noting: One remaining dispute between the sides is the pending sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. Kushner has said President Trump will discuss the issue with Netanyahu, who has expressed opposition to the arms deal.

Go deeper

Dec 10, 2020 - World

Morocco to normalize ties with Israel in deal with Trump over Western Sahara

Trump and Netanyahu at the signing of the Abraham Accords. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Morocco has agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, President Trump announced on Thursday. The Moroccan decision comes as part of a deal that includes U.S. recognition of the disputed territory of Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

Why it matters: Morocco is the fourth Arab country to move toward normalization with Israel in the last four months as part of the Trump administration's "Abraham Accords" initiative. But the deal also involves a change in long-standing U.S. policy with just six weeks left in Trump's term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Dec 11, 2020 - World

Trump hands Morocco a long-awaited breakthrough over Western Sahara

A Moroccan soldier at a checkpoint in Western Sahara. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump announced a deal with Morocco on Thursday that included two major provisions: Morocco will establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and the U.S. will recognize Morocco's sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Why it matters: The U.S. is now the only Western country to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, reversing decades of U.S. policy. With six weeks left in his term, Trump provided Morocco a diplomatic breakthrough for which it has lobbied for decades.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.