Trump brokers deal between UAE and Israel, claims foreign policy win

Bloomberg August 14 | Updated on August 14, 2020

US President Donald Trump   -  Bloomberg

The Gulf monarchy and Israel agreed to normalise diplomatic relations

Donald Trump hasn’t yet delivered the deal of the century he’s long sought in the Middle East, but his administration’s efforts have produced an agreement between Israel and the UAE that even opponent Joe Biden is calling a historic step.

Its an accomplishment that comes with plans for a White House signing ceremony on the cusp of the November Presidential election. And it lets President Trump claim a foreign policy win after he failed to deliver on efforts to secure a nuclear deal with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un or force Iran’s leaders to the negotiating table through a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions.

Much has yet to be hashed out beyond the broad strokes outlined by Trump on Thursday: The UAE will move toward normalising relations with Israel, joining Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab countries to do so. And Israel will suspend further annexations in the West Bank.

It has been a long-term, bipartisan goal to pursue normalisation between Israel and Arab states, Daniel Shapiro, an ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, said on Twitter. The UAE-Israel announcement is good news, and breaks an important barrier. Everyone should welcome it.

A lot can still go wrong. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled he still hopes Israel can eventually annex the West Bank, emphasising the current freeze is temporary.

The Trump administration also made clear that it hopes other Gulf countries, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, will now follow the UAE’s lead. They do so at the risk of being seen seen as sabotaging the Palestinian cause and the anti-Israel sentiment that goes with it. Palestinian officials quickly condemned the UAE-Israel accord as a betrayal.

Kneecap the deal

That rejection comes with the prospect of violence if it stirs up groups such as Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy. Even far right Israelis may be frustrated at the annexation suspension in the West Bank.

Iran, Hezbollah, Israeli extremists, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood will all try to kneecap this deal with kinetic physical and cyber operations, said Paul Sullivan, an international security expert at the National Defense University in Washington. Both Israel and the UAE need to be hyper-vigilant against threats on this.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Al Jazeera that the UAE move was a stab against the Palestinian cause and will encourage the Israeli occupation to commit more aggression against “our people”.

Asked about rejection by the Palestinians, Trump told reporters Thursday, “I think the Palestinians, without saying it necessarily —I think they very much want to be a part of what were doing.”

The unexpected announcement came after years of Trump administration efforts to broker a broad Mid-East peace appeared to be foundering.

At the beginning of his term in 2017, Trump called on Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, to seek a sweeping agreement —that deal of the century — between Israel and the Palestinians. The efforts stalled after the Palestinians grew alienated by Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Kushner’s Plan

Kushner later laid out his plan, which promised economic investment for the Palestinians but annexation of swaths of the West Bank by Israel. Palestinian leaders quickly rejected it.

But ties between Israel and Gulf Arab states have warmed in recent years, in large part due to a shared distrust of Iran. Until now, they haven’t ripened into open relations, let alone normalisation.

Kushner told reporters at the White House that UAE officials concerned about Israel’s annexation plans joined in secret talks over the past six weeks. That led to the decision to establish bilateral ties between Israel and the UAE in exchange for Netanyahu suspending his controversial annexation plan, Kushner said.

“We started a discussion with the UAE saying maybe this is something that we can do that shows that theres a much greater interest to Israel in the short, medium, and long term than applying Israeli sovereignty,” said Kushner, who called Thursday’s announcement a big breakthrough.

Camp David accords

The deal would make Trump the third US President — after Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — to get an Arab nation to establish ties with Israel. The planned White House signing ceremony will help Trump evoke the spirit of the original peace deal between Israel and Egypt facilitated by Carter as part of the Camp David accords in 1978.

The outcome will depend largely on how successful Israel and the UAE are in implementing their plan to normalise ties. The leader of the UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, made more nuanced comments than Trump on Thursday, saying that the UAE and Israel agreed to cooperation and setting a road map toward establishing a bilateral relationship.

Published on August 14, 2020

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