The Associated Press calls this “a rare diplomatic win” for Donald Trump, but the Abraham Agreement is huge. The deal brokered by the Trump administration breaks the Gulf Arab bloc against Israel, a massive diplomatic coup for the White House. The terms of the deal also shows other Arab states that Trump can exert a moderating influence on Israel to boot:
This is a win all around, except maybe for Iran:
President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties as part of a deal to halt the annexation of occupied land sought by the Palestinians for their future state.
The announcement makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state to do so and only the third Arab nation to have active diplomatic ties to Israel. …
For Israel, the announcement comes after years of boasting by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his government enjoys closer ties to Arab nations than publicly acknowledged. Netanyahu has sought to build settlements on lands sought by the Palestinians and embraced a Trump proposal that would allow him to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank while granting Palestinians limited autonomy in other areas.
For the UAE, home to skyscraper-studded Dubai and the rolling, oil-rich sand dunes of Abu Dhabi, it further burnishes its international campaign to be seen as a beacon of tolerance in the Middle East despite being governed by autocratic rulers. It also puts the UAE out first in a regional recognition race among neighboring Gulf Arab states.
The deal stops Israel from annexing the parts of Judea and Samaria that it claimed it wouldn’t cede in settlements with the Palestinians. That is a reversal for Trump too, who outlined those areas as part of the Israeli territory in his Vision for Peace plan, which was roundly rejected by the Palestinians and the other Arab states. Trump and Netanyahu apparently used that plan as leverage to finally pull at least one Gulf Arab state over the line and into the US coalition. That is bad news for Tehran.
One does have to wonder how Trump got Netanyahu to reverse that annexation plan, which was a key part of Netanyahu’s hardliner support in Israel. Was it that the plan was intended for leverage all along? Or did Netanyahu decide that Trump needed a boost to avoid dealing with a Biden/Harris administration that threatens a return to appeasement of Iran?
It’s a mixed bag for Palestinians, the AP notes:
And for the Palestinians, who long have relied on Arab backing in their struggle for independence, the announcement marked both a win and setback. While Thursday’s deal halts Israeli annexation plans, the Palestinians have repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalize relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.
This might be a message from the Arab states over the Palestinians’ alliance with Iran, which cuts to the heart of their security concerns. As Tehran has grown increasingly aggressive at expanding the reach of their hegemony, the traditional Shi’a/Sunni conflict has become more acute along with the usual temporal power struggles in the region. Why the Palestinians never saw this as a problem before now is anyone’s guess, but the UAE’s recognition of Israel makes it crystal clear now. They do have some breathing room on negotiations now, but this move by a Gulf Arab state clearly indicates that the region is growing tired of the Palestinians and their stubborn insistence on an all-or-nothing outcome.
Now that the UAE has made this move, one has to wonder who’s next. Saudi Arabia might be the most significant, but its insistence on proselytizing the extreme Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam would make a reversal on recognizing Israel the most difficult. The smaller states in the Gulf might have to move first before the Saudis could sell it to the hardliners in the royal family and clerics in the kingdom. If this starts a chain reaction of recognition for Israel in the region, not only will that bolster Netanyahu’s standing at home but it will make the Palestinians start thinking that a smaller sovereign state beats nothing at all.
“This is Iran’s worst nightmare,” said one of the advisors at the presser. That’s not just true of the Iranians, either.
Update: Jeff Dunetz has more thoughts on this breaking story.
Update: The UAE says the agreement provides a “roadmap” to recognition, not an immediate status change:
A bit different of an interpretation here https://t.co/wm6nIegoAV
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) August 13, 2020
We’ll see what the text of the actual agreement lays out. Just entering into a diplomatic agreement with Israel is a de facto recognition, however.
Update: Former ambassador Dennis Ross is not clinging to the “roadmap” explanation either, although he gives UAE credit for backing Israel down from annexation:
The UAE made it clear that it meant what it said about the choice for Israel: it could have normalization or annexation but not both. Normalization crosses a threshold. Palestinians won’t like it but the UAE prevented annexation and preserved 2 states as an outcome. Important.
— Dennis Ross (@AmbDennisRoss) August 13, 2020