WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Catholic congressman who is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee called the Middle East peace accord signed Sept. 15 at the White House a “momentous pact” he hopes “is the beginning of several future peace accords to strengthen peace within the region.”
“The United States has again brought strength to Israel — one of our strongest allies in the region — and strength brings peace,'” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said in a statement.
President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence welcomed Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani to the White House, where the leaders signed the document, which is being called the Abraham Accords.
“It is important to note, after decades of conflict, this is the first such agreement between Israel and any major Arab country since 1994,” said Smith, who was at the White House to witness the signing, which he called “a truly historic milestone in Middle East peace.”
The Israel-UAE pact was initially reached Aug. 13, normalizing what had long been informal but strong foreign relations between the two countries. On Sept. 11, Bahrain announced it also would formally recognize the Jewish state.
In an Aug. 20 statement, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, welcomed the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE and said it can be a step for peace in the Middle East.
“The Catholic bishops of the United States have long held that both morally and as a basis for lasting peace, the two parties must negotiate directly and arrive at a fair compromise that respects the aspirations and need of both peoples,” said Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois.
“As Catholic bishops we join in this aspiration and know much work remains in the pursuit of peace in the region,” he said.
The agreement is called the Abraham Accords, named for “the father of all three great faiths,” Christian, Muslim and Jewish.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates, and Israel plan to exchange embassies and ambassadors, according to the statement from the White House announcing the agreement Aug. 13. The UAE and Bahrain join Egypt and Jordan as the Arab countries establishing relations with Israel.
As part of the agreement, Israel said it would temporarily suspend plans to annex disputed Palestinian territory in the West Bank, a move that Malloy said the bishops found “gratifying.”
The planned annexation of Palestinian lands by Israel has been a major point of contention between the Jewish state and much of the Arab world.
In his statement, Smith said the pact is “a credit to President Trump, his leadership team — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to bring lasting peace to the region.”
“After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said Sept. 15. “Thanks to the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity.”
He added, “These agreements prove that the nations of the region are breaking free from the failed approaches of the past. Today’s signing sets history on a new course.”
Malloy in his Aug. 20 statement cited Pope Francis, who said during a visit to the UAE in 2019 that “dialogue, understanding and the widespread promotion of a culture of tolerance, acceptance of others and of living together peacefully would contribute significantly to reducing many economic, social, political and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on a large part of humanity.”
“It is our hope that this agreement will contribute to that peace,” the bishop said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the pact, describing it as “a betrayal of Jerusalem.” Palestinian leaders have long called for a peace deal with Israel that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and Israel and for ensuring access for Jews and Muslims to each religion’s holy sites in the city.