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News Brief: Israel And UAE Deal, Biden's Lead On Trump, USPS Funding


Israel is visibly shifting its relations with the Arab world.


Right. So here's the history. Ever since Israel's independence in the 1940s, it hasn't had diplomatic relations with most Arab countries. A few of them made peace after multiple wars. And Israelis have said for a long time that they are quietly cooperating with some Arab leaders. But yesterday, the United Arab Emirates said it out loud. This small, very wealthy country in the Persian Gulf established full diplomatic relations. And President Trump says his administration helped arrange that deal.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Just a few moments ago, I hosted a very special call with two friends, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, where they agreed to finalize a historical peace agreement.

KING: Israel made a concession, quote, "suspending its plans to annex parts of the West Bank" where Palestinians want to have a state of their own.

INSKEEP: Palestinians are very much a part of this story, as we will hear from NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Michele, good morning.


INSKEEP: How big a deal is this announcement?

KELEMEN: The Trump administration sees it as a big deal and a sign of a changing Middle East. Gulf States and Israel have a common enemy, that is Iran. And while these countries have been quietly cooperating with Israel, the UAE was the first to go public, agreeing to normalize ties. The next step is for Israeli and Emirati leaders to come to the White House and sign a series of bilateral agreements on trade, tourism, security. And they're planning to open up embassies. Trump is hoping that the UAE will be the first of several to normalize ties with Israel. As he puts it, the ice has been broken.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Of course, the big one there would be Saudi Arabia. That would be the big, big Persian Gulf Power if they were to make some kind of deal with Israel, which hasn't happened yet. But why did the UAE and Israel move now?

KELEMEN: A big reason is Israel's threat to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. A lot of experts say that would pretty much end the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, Steve, earlier this year, the Emirati ambassador to Washington wrote an op-ed in an Israeli paper. He basically argued, you know, it's normalization or annexation. And it seems to have been an easy choice for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he faced a lot of opposition around the world for his annexation plans. It could have complicated his relations with many countries, including with the U.S. if Joe Biden defeats Trump in the elections. Biden has made clear that he opposed the annexation plans.

INSKEEP: I guess we should explain Arab nations tend to support Palestinians. That's a big reason that most of them have not established full diplomatic relations with Israel. And so that's how the Palestinians became part of this negotiation. But in exchange for diplomatic relations, did Israel permanently give up annexing the West Bank?

KELEMEN: No. I mean, the key word is suspended. So it's temporary. And there's a lot of ways this can go in the coming weeks. Israelis might try to get other Arab countries to join the UAE. Or these Gulf states might try to pressure Israel to make other concessions.

INSKEEP: OK. So what do the Palestinians think?

KELEMEN: Well, they think the UAE betrayed them. The Arab League position, as you mentioned, is normalization after the Israelis and Palestinians reach a two-state solution. And while the annexation plans may be on hold, the reality is the Israelis have built up settlements in the occupied West Bank. And that isn't changing.

INSKEEP: Michele, thanks for the update.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.


INSKEEP: His critics often say the president says the quiet part out loud. That phrase certainly applied yesterday when the president gave his reason to oppose funding for the Postal Service.

KING: He was talking to Fox Business News. And he said if he blocks the money, he can also block mail-in voting. Now, as is often the case with President Trump, it was startling. But it was also very confusingly worded. And then later in the day at a press conference, he said something more nuanced, which we'll explain. But first, here's Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center.

TREVOR POTTER: I think it may have occurred to him that he was too honest yesterday, that what he said yesterday was that he wanted to make it as difficult as possible for the majority of Americans to vote. And I hope and expect that he realized that it was a mistake to say that because in a pandemic it is clearly safer to vote by mail.

INSKEEP: The president, of course, for months has fanned suspicions of mail-in voting, though, without evidence. NPR's Miles Parks has been covering that story for quite some time. Hey there, Miles.


INSKEEP: OK. So how did the president's statements change during the day?

PARKS: So initially, he seemed to say that as part of the next congressional stimulus package, he did not want Postal Service funding. This is the billions of dollars that Democrats put in their proposal that they note the USPS has asked for because they're heading towards falling off a financial cliff.


PARKS: Now, Trump said he opposed it, essentially, because it would allow Democrats to implement what he called a universal mail-in voting system. This part of it just isn't true. Each state runs their own elections. There isn't some sort of federal elections body making all of these decisions. Each state runs their own elections. And only a handful are planning to send ballots to all registered voters. And many of those states...

INSKEEP: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Let me just make - wait. Miles, let me just make sure I understand this. The president said he was going to block funding for the Postal Service, which needs it, in order to stop something that nobody was proposing at all. Is that correct?

PARKS: Right. So some states are expanding their mail-in voting. And they say, basically, the post office does need more support to do this. But it's not, like, some sort of national situation where the entire country is going to this system kind of on a whim. Obviously, also the USPS does a lot more than just send mail ballots. They send very important prescriptions to people and all sorts of other things.

So then yesterday afternoon, President Trump sort of walked it back in his press conference, saying this would not be a sticking point for him, that he would potentially sign legislation that includes money for the post office if it comes to him. But he's still strongly opposed to the general idea of male voting expansion, which most states, Republican and Democratic led, are doing at this point.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from people who run elections?

PARKS: In general, I'm hearing a lot of worrying. You know, this is an area where they have very little control. They can print the ballots on time. They can get all of these security measures in place that are in place for these mail ballots. They can get them sent out on time to the right addresses. And then at that point, it's kind of out of their hands and in the hands of the Postal Service. I talked to Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who's the secretary of state of New Mexico. And she also leads the National Association of Secretaries of State.

MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: I'm just really, you know, sad, quite frankly, that voting in general continues to be such a partisan issue. And it's really discouraging, I think, for voters.

PARKS: Now, what's really shocking here is that she has yet to hear from the new leadership at the post office. This is the head of the group of the most important election officials in the country. And she said her and the leadership of the association have requested a conversation with the postmaster general. And they haven't received a response yet.

INSKEEP: He is a major Trump contributor, who's got a lot of questions about his investments, who's running the Postal Service. Is the Postal Service likely to get the money after all this?

PARKS: It still seems likely, I'd say, for no other reason that the post office is just extraordinarily popular both nationwide and in Congress. There's numerous Republican senators who have come out in support of USPS in the past few weeks. And then broadly, a Pew study found in April that 91% of Americans had a favorable view of the post office, which is just an extraordinarily high number, higher than any other federal agency or organization that Pew asked about.

INSKEEP: NPR's Miles Parks. Thanks.

PARKS: Thank you.


INSKEEP: Joe Biden has expanded his lead over the president nationally, including among some groups who will be pivotal in November.

KING: Right. That's according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that's out this morning. It surveyed around 1,300 American adults.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Domenico Montanaro has been studying the results. Hi there, Domenico.


INSKEEP: How much is the Biden lead now?

MONTANARO: Well he now leads Trump by 11 points - 53 to 42% - which is up from an eight-point advantage at the end of June last time we asked about it. And he's doing well with key groups, Biden. He's reached a majority with independents. He leads Trump with this crucial group, by the way, by 16 points. And Trump still retains support from his base voting groups. But he's seeing his lead dissipate with, importantly, white voters. For context, Trump won white voters in 2016 by 20 points. And in this poll, Trump and Biden are tied.

INSKEEP: Wow. It's been rare in recent generations that Democrats have been competitive among white voters. They'll get a large minority, but not usually half.


INSKEEP: Has anything changed about the major issue of the year, the pandemic?

MONTANARO: Well, Trump's overall approval rating has ticked down to 39%. And Americans are saying they're even more worried about coronavirus than they had been a few months ago. Seventy-one percent now say they see it as a real threat. That's up from 56% in March, the last time we asked the question about whether they think it's a real threat or not.

And on who voters would like to see handling it, they prefer Biden on this by 16 points. If President Trump really - if he hopes to be reelected, he's going to have to improve on this front because many voters are saying it'll be a significant factor in their vote. But making things harder for President Trump is that just 31% say that they can trust the information coming from the president about coronavirus. So frankly, Steve, a lot of Americans are just tuning him out.

INSKEEP: Wow, just 31%, meaning there are a lot of people who say they're going to vote for the president who don't trust what he has to say about the coronavirus.

MONTANARO: That's true if 39% are approving of him and only 31% are saying they trust the information coming from him.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Now, let me ask about something else that was in this survey. People were asked about the vaccine, whenever it may arrive, whether they would take the vaccine. What did they say?

MONTANARO: Yeah. This was pretty striking. More than a third of Americans - 35% - said that they will not get vaccinated when a vaccine comes available for coronavirus, 60% say they will. There are huge splits by education and party. Those with college degrees, 19 points more likely to get vaccinated than those without, Democrats 23 points more likely than Republicans to do so. And those skeptical of vaccines, Steve, is a huge concern for public health experts in the country, who say the U.S. needs to overcome this pandemic by getting vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Yeah. The higher percentage of people take a vaccine, the more effective it is overall. Domenico, Thanks.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.