The agreement is a breakthrough for Muslims who wish to come in peace to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam. Direct flights between the two countries will facilitate pilgrimages to al-Aqsa — a victory for religious pluralism and a repudiation of the false narrative, used by extremists to bolster their ranks, that the mosque is under attack.
This deal came together as a result of negotiations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, facilitated and led by the United States. But it was the strategic policy shift undertaken by President Trump 3½ years ago that laid the foundation for the breakthrough the world witnessed this week. The agreement would not have been possible without the leadership of a president who refuses to do things the same old way just because “that’s how it has always been done.”
When President Trump took office, the Middle East was in a state of extreme turmoil, even by the low standards of a region long plagued by danger and violence. Islamic State terrorists controlled an area in Iraq and Syria approximately the size of Ohio. The peace process between Israel and the Arab world had stalled. Iran was spreading instability through proxy fighters in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
It was to this region that President Trump took his first trip abroad as president. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the president laid out his vision for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East. He described to the leaders of dozens of Arab and Muslim countries a region with vast potential, held hostage by extremism and the conflicts of the past.
President Trump recognized that, to tap this potential, the region required a strategic realignment. In the new Middle East, nations must chart their course based on shared interests and common values, not old hatreds and rivalries. The president also recognized that building this future would require altering a U.S. policy that for far too long had accepted these historic animosities and even nurtured them.
That’s why instead of rewarding America’s enemies, we pledged to draw our partners closer. Rather than lecturing America’s friends, we committed to taking forceful action against the evils of extremism and terror. Finally, we resolved to pursue these goals grounded in the realities of today, not the ghosts of the past.
Three-and-a-half years later, this strategic realignment continues to pay off. The Islamic State caliphate has been destroyed, its brutal leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed. Iran remains a pariah state but is more constrained than ever before. And thanks to the courageous leaders of Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East this week took a great step toward a future in which people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds can live together in the spirit of cooperation and peace.
Ultimately, it is up to the people of the Middle East to decide the future they want for their children. The United States cannot and should not choose for them. But the remarkable progress over the past several years is clear evidence that the people of the Middle East are finally on a path to a very bright future. And today, more than ever, they can count on the United States’ support every step of the way.