Donald Trump takes full credit for peace deals between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel

United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday, September 15, hosted a White House ceremony for signing of peace deal between Israel and UAE and Bahrain.
  • Trump has proudly announced that five other Arab countries have also lined up to sign similar peace deals
  • The White House has emphasized that the historic breakthrough was made possible by Trump’s ‘leadership and expertise as a deal-maker
  • There is an old saying: ‘There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests’. Nothing illustrates this better than the evolution of Israel‘s relations with Arab countries.       

No doubt, the two peace deals are a further consolidation of an America-led alliance in countering Iran’s influence in the region. In fact, one factor that has drawn both UAE and Bahrain closer to Israel is the fear of Iran’s growing role in the region. In recent years, Israel-UAE informal relations have warmed considerably and they have engaged in informal cooperation based on their joint opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and regional influence.

On 15th September 2020, a highly publicized event was held on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC. Donald Trump beamed proudly as the Foreign Ministers of UAE and Bahrain signed peace deals with the Prime Minister of Israel. Expectedly, Trump took full credit for these two historic peace deals which he had brokered, and which are being called the ‘Abraham Accords’.

The Abraham accords made me step back in time and see how things have changed in the Middle East. As a young Indian diplomat, I was sent to Egypt for my first overseas posting. Soon after my arrival in Cairo, Egypt and Israel had signed the historic Camp David Accords in September 1978. These had been brokered by US President Carter and paved the way for the Peace Treaty which was signed in March 1979.

The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty ended the state of war that had existed between them since 1948. It made Egypt the first Arab country to recognize Israel, but for the same reason, it became unpopular in most of the other Arab countries. In their view, Sadat had betrayed the concept of Arab unity, and Egypt was suspended from the Arab League in 1979. Most Arab countries severed diplomatic ties with Egypt. It took several years to restore these ties, and as regards the re-admission of Egypt in the Arab League, this did not take place until 1989.

In sharp contrast with the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979, no such outcry from other Arab countries has followed Israel’s peace agreements with UAE and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia is not officially a party to the agreements, but the kingdom’s close ties with the UAE and Bahrain and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s direct contacts with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner do seem to indicate Saudi approval.

In fact, Trump has proudly announced that five other Arab countries have also lined up to sign similar peace deals, and though he did not name them, some are guessing that they might include Oman, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and perhaps even Saudi Arabia.

Naming the accords after Abraham has more than symbolic significance, for Abraham is regarded as their patriarch both by the Israelis as well as by the Arabs; both believe that they are descended from him. Thus, the Abraham Accords are an exhortation to Arabs and Israelis–the descendants of Abraham– to live in peace with one another.

The deals are undoubtedly a diplomatic success for Trump .The White House has emphasized that the historic breakthrough was made possible by Trump’s “leadership and expertise as a deal-maker.” Soon after the UAE-Israel deal was announced, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters that he wouldn’t be surprised if the President is nominated for the 2021 Nobel Prize. That has come true, with a right-wing Norwegian politician Tybring-Gjedde nominating Trump. Earlier, Tybring-Gjedde had nominated Trump for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring about reconciliation between North and South Korea, but Trump did not win the Peace Prize. Whether he wins it or not this time remains to be seen.

No doubt, the two peace deals are a further consolidation of an America-led alliance in countering Iran’s influence in the region. In fact, one factor that has drawn both UAE and Bahrain closer to Israel is the fear of Iran’s growing role in the region. In recent years, Israel-UAE informal relations have warmed considerably and they have engaged in informal cooperation based on their joint opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and regional influence.

The two peace deals are also a diplomatic success for Israel, especially Prime Minister Netenyahu. For several years UAE and Israel have had many under-the-table contacts. There had been reports that Yossi Cohen, Director of the Israeli Secret Service Mossad secretly visited UAE several times for over a year to broker the accord. With the signing of the deal, all such contacts can now be conducted openly. The deal will lead to stronger economic, political and cultural ties between Israel and UAE. In a significant development, immediately after the deal was signed, the UAE Apex National Investment company signed a “strategic commercial agreement” with Israel’s Tera Group to conduct research into COVID-19 and develop a virus testing device. More such business deals would follow soon.

Bahrain’s relations with Israel have also strengthened slowly but steadily, partly due to Iran’s aggressive posturing. Although the royal family and many high-ups in the establishment in Bahrain are Sunnis, the majority of Bahraini Muslims are Shiites; it is one of three countries in the Middle East in which Shiites are the majority, the other two being Iraq and Iran. Shias have often complained of being politically repressed and economically marginalized; as a result, most of the protestors in the Bahraini uprising of 2011 were Shiites. Bahrain’s ruling family is believed to be wary of Iran’s propensity to foment sectarian trouble. Notably, Bahrain had hosted the Trump administration’s 2019 “Peace to Prosperity” economic summit to promote its Middle East peace plan. In this background, it was widely expected to follow the UAE in formalizing a peace treaty with Israel.

On its part, India has welcomed the US-brokered historic accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations and establish full diplomatic links while also stressing on its traditional support for the Palestinian cause and an acceptable two-state solution.

The prelude to the Israel-UAE peace deal was a joint statement by these two countries and the US which referred to the suspension of the annexation of the West Bank by Israel, but this aspect was vague and lacked clarity. How long will this suspension be? Significantly, Trump administration officials have refused to clarify how long Israel will suspend annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank as a result of this deal, and under what circumstances the U.S. would support Netanyahu returning to annexation plans. U.S.

Ambassador to Israel David Melech Friedman confirmed that the issue could be revisited, which means that the suspension could be revoked.

Not surprisingly, Iran has condemned these two agreements, as has Turkey. When the Israel-UAE deal was announced, Iran’s Foreign Ministry called the deal a “dagger that was unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims,” while Turkey said the peoples of the region “will never forget and will never forgive this hypocritical behavior” by the UAE. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will be responsible for any ‘consequences’ resulting from their normalization of relations with Israel. Iran’s relations with UAE and Bahrain had been on a down slide for the past several years. In 2016, Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Iran and the UAE downgraded relations amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran; predictably, these relationships have worsened even further.

The Palestinians, too have reacted with anger and have rejected the deals. When the UAE-Israel deal was announced, a spokesperson of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it “treason”. However, their options are quite limited. For example, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has said that Palestine would boycott the Dubai Expo scheduled for October 2020, but apart from any political points which might be scored, this boycott will not make much difference to the event.

Frankly, the Palestinian question is no longer central to the foreign policy objectives of many Arab countries, particularly those in the Gulf region. They are grappling with security issues where Iran and Turkey are perceived as playing the role of adversaries. They are also trying to keep pace with technological advances and preparing for the situation after their oil reserves run out. In this regard, they find it advantageous to deepen ties with the US and forge a relationship with Israel.

No doubt, many in the Arab world still care quite deeply about the Palestinians. However, in the policy formulations of many Arab Governments, the Palestinian issue has shrunk from representing a broader Arab cause to a tragedy that affects mainly the Palestinians.

Simply put, it may seem unbelievable how the Arab world has changed, but in the regional and global scenario, the changes were perhaps inevitable.

(The author is a retired career diplomat, now based in Gurugram, India. He can be reached at [email protected])

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