The world was shocked by the stunning announcement by US President Donald Trump this week that the United States had moderated talks between the UAE and Israel leading to a “peace deal” between the two Middle Eastern countries – to be completed over the coming weeks and months.
The news of the deal sent a shockwave across the Arab world and into the US, with many wondering how this was possible, why now, how long had the deal been in the making, and what consequences would follow.
Unlike past attempts at peace, including the Madrid Conference in 1992, the Camp David Accords process in the 1990s, and the ensuing peace treaties Israel signed with Egypt, Jordan and the PLO, the “Abraham Accord,” as it is now smartly named, was not negotiated under the public eye – and without the scrutiny of media. It seems to have appeared from nowhere and was quickly unveiled by President Trump and his team at the White House.
Yet from what I know, the UAE-Israel deal has a long history and even greater dimensions which, after official signature, will unfold one after the other.
How did the idea grow between Israel, the UAE, and the Trump circle? And for how long has the idea been out there?
I can testify personally only to what I know, and the rest is input and analysis.
Trump’s critics rapidly claimed that he rushed to assemble this deal and announce it as an appetizer to garner support ahead of the US presidential elections in November. They imply Trump ordered it overnight.
But I know that is not true, as he asked me about the feasibility of a new Arab-Israel peace treaty and pointed at the UAE as a possible next candidate for peace deals in December 2015 when he received me at his office in Trump tower. He had been thinking about it for years and wanted to be the architect of such a deal. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump contemplated such a deal. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2016, and after the election he met with the UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed. That was half a decade ago.
The Israelis have been seeking such an opening since they last signed an agreement with Jordan, a quarter of a century ago. As for the UAE leadership, I can also testify that Sheikh Mohammed and his brother Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in the UAE, personally told me in 2016 that they were thinking of such a deal, while still keeping the Palestinians in mind.
The deal’s genesis is old and the idea of such a deal matured gradually, but conditions in the US that would allow for such a deal to be struck took longer than expected to become ripe.
What was Trump’s plan in 2017 for such an agreement, after the Riyadh Summit?
Immediately after arriving in the White House, President Trump launched a series of conversations with the leaders of a number of Arab countries – including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan – to explore the formation of an Arab Coalition. The coalition was born from a campaign foreign policy goal, and it sought to move forward in the peace process. What we heard from the President now was already in the works, years ago. Obviously, both Israelis and Emiratis have been eager to engage in this historic track, but the sponsorship of the United States was needed.
Why was it delayed? Why did this come in the summer of 2020, not in the spring of 2017?
When President Trump addressed more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders in Riyadh in May 2017, he encouraged them to fight terror, counter extremism, and move toward resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and resuming peace deals. It was expected that such a move by Arab allies would happen that summer. But few predicted that the Obama bureaucracy, still operating under a Trump Administration, with the help of the opposition, not only would keep the White House off balance with fiery investigations on national security, but would also try to discredit Trump’s Arab allies in the region via media blasts. It took the White House and its allies in Congress almost three years to free themselves from the mud of the so-called investigations, and later the impeachment attempts, followed by six months of COVID-19 pandemic, to be ready for such an event. Despite all delays, the announcement has been made and the peace deal has now a life of its own.
Who gets what in this deal?
Israel will have access to a giant economy in the Gulf – a dream come true – and a partnership with the most advanced Arab country. The UAE will have access to Israel’s advanced technology, from agriculture to military. And where both find countries find themselves in a hostile region, military cooperation will be a game changer.
On the side, Abu Dhabi will put immense pressure on Qatar to follow suit or appear opposed to peace in the eyes of the American public. The Palestinians, or at least the moderate ranks, though not satisfied by US pro-Israel policy in the last two years, will discover a more efficient new path to obtain dividends, such as final statehood, Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and significant economic infusion from the Gulf.
At first, the UAE deal led to the freeze of Israeli nationalization of the border area in the West Bank, almost a miracle. But the greater miracle for Palestinian civil society and youth will be the huge economic advantages that will be produced by a Dubai business connection to the West Bank.
Who will oppose it?
Undoubtedly, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood will oppose such a deal, because it will further reduce the effectiveness of one of their prime cards in radicalization, the Palestinian cause and Jerusalem. The Emiratis will be opening the gates of the holy city to Muslims worldwide, not the missiles of the Iranian Quds force. The ruling party in Turkey, the AKP, has already joined the ayatollahs in the rejection of the peace deal. But to their detriment, seculars and businessmen in Istanbul have grown frustrated with such foreign policy. Eventually, Israeli businesses will increasingly shift their markets to the Gulf instead of keeping them in Turkey as they face an aggressive government against the peace process.
And finally, who is next on the Abraham deal train?
Bahrain is fully ready as it has opened its interfaith dialogue forums to Israelis years ago. Oman and Kuwait will be watching. But the big prize – the one that would shift the ground in the Middle East – is none other than Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a friend and ally to Mohammed bin Zayed, and the young Saudi prince has already launched the greatest reform in the history of the Kingdom. He has been behind the Gulf diplomatic renaissance – along with Trump since the Riyadh summit. But he must carefully complete his deep reforms at home in order for him to lead the Arab Coalition on the road to Jerusalem, to pray in peace.
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