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Israeli Peace with Arab Countries Comes with Some Strings Attached

posted on: Sep 9, 2020

Israeli Peace with Arab Countries Comes with Some Strings Attached
Israeli airliner makes the first direct flight to an Arab country–the UAE. Credit New York Times

By: John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer                The story of the Israel-UAE peace accord comes with some strings attached. The U.S. and Israel had to compromise significantly in order for the UAE to appear it had won the day. This is a bizarre tale of a rich Arab country in search of open trade, a sale of advanced U.S. airplanes, a Jewish American Member of Congress’ mixed opinion on the deal, and a Saudi monarch putting his foot down on Israel’s intention to swallow up more Palestinian territory.

The U.S.-brokered peace agreement between the UAE and Israel—is it only the first of many such agreements with Arab countries?

Following decades of drought in establishing new official relations with Arab countries, Israel has recently found another knot to tie, this one with the United Arab Emirates. Earlier diplomatic relations developed with Egypt and Jordan following the 1973 Yom Kippur or Ashra (10th of) Ramadan War, were the last and only Israel had managed to conjure up with Arab countries, dating to four decades ago.

The UAE will fulfill its drive to normalize relations with Israel on September 22, when its delegation travels to Israel. According to Reuters, “The two countries announced on August 13 they would normalize diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal that was hailed as a breakthrough by Washington and Israel but spurned by the Palestinians.” This trip will reciprocate an earlier, groundbreaking trip by a UAE delegation to Israel. The upcoming visit by the UAE is reported to be preceded by a ceremony in Washington.

Trade seems to be the major motive of both countries in this new arrangement, with a trade bill expected to amount to $4 billion. The accord with the UAE is the first, however, for which an Arab country did not demand of Israel that it cede more land back to the Palestinians. On the other hand, the UAE has made some effort to insist that Israel drop or delay its U.S.-backed intention to annex around 30% more of additional Palestinian territory.

New hints more Arab countries may want to come Israel’s way

With the UAE in Israel’s pocket, reports from around the Middle East suggest that some leaders in the region approve of the agreement to normalize diplomatic relations. Some seem interested in a similar arrangement, while others have condemned it. According to the Voice of America Middle East section, “The agreement could be the beginning of a new trend that may eventually lead to normal relations between Israel and much of the Middle East, according to Hisham Kassem, a veteran Egyptian publisher, and analyst.” Further, per Kassem, “There will be other countries to follow…And eventually there will be normalization between Israel and the whole of the Arab world.”

Onlooking countries such as Bahrain and Sudan have expressed an interest in diplomatic ties with Israel. They would seem to have the least to lose and most to gain from such an arrangement; it’s not clear what Israel would gain from such ties, except for more diplomatic ties in a world in which it has been deprived of such ties. Such a diplomatic relation with Bahrain, VOA reported, “…could help Bahrain establish a more formal partnership with a powerful country in the Middle East that shares its perception of Iran as a major threat…”

Sudan, also according to VOA, might not want openly to engage in a diplomatic link with Israel, since the Jewish state is deeply unpopular in Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Analysts say Sudan is also straining under the weight of Western sanctions, and normalizing relations with Israel might bring some relief.”

A problem with increased Arab diplomatic relations with Israel is that, while in the short run such relations may delay Israeli annexation of Palestinian West Bank territory, in the end, it may result in Arab countries’ reduced capability to influence Israel on its continued quest to swallow up Palestine.

Israeli Peace with Arab Countries Comes with Some Strings Attached
Netanyahu, Trump, and UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan–the leaders getting the most out of the deal. Credit Morocco World News

Possible negative consequences of the U.S.-UAE-Israeli agreement

One result of the brokered agreement between Israel and the UAE is that sealed within its layers is a deal for the U.S. to sell fighter jets to the UAE. This has not endeared all Jewish Americans to the deal, one of whom is staunch Israel supporter and U.S. Representative of Florida, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Her opinion on what she sees as the downside of the deal was published in a recent edition of the Miami Herald. First, Wasserman expresses support for the normalization of Israeli-UAE relations and even applauds what she perceives as the end of the “…possibility of Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank, which President Trump foolishly put on the table earlier this year.”

But, Wasserman continues, the good news comes with a catch, which is that “UAE leaders have made clear they believe that they received a commitment from the Trump administration to purchase the American-made F-35 aircraft. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, signaled as much when he told Fareed Zakaria on CNN that the normalization deal ‘should increase the probability’ that the UAE’s long-standing request to purchase the aircraft will be approved.” Wasserman points out that the sale of 50 F35s to the UAE is unusual since these advanced jets have been reserved only for the U.S.’ closest allies, including, of course, Israel. Israel is the only Middle East country at present to possess this sophisticated aircraft, with its stealth capabilities, giving it aerial domination of the region. Israel’s complicity in approving this sale is contested by its leaders.

Direct talks between Saudi King and Trump underscore Saudi commitment to a sovereign Palestinian State 

So, it seems, a Jewish Representative of the U.S. Congress and the King of Saudi Arabia can tacitly agree on one thing: an end to the possibility of Israeli annexation of over 30% of the occupied West Bank. In a call on Monday from King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Mr. Trump, according to Middle East News, the King “reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the Palestinian cause of establishing a sovereign state. The Saudi leader alluded to the recently negotiated Abraham Accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and expressed to President Trump his ‘appreciation for the efforts made by the United States to establish peace [in the region],’ the Saudi Press Agency reported.”

Israeli Peace with Arab Countries Comes with Some Strings Attached
Saudi King Salman tells Trump that the Kingdom is eager to achieve a solution to the Palestinian issue. Credit Fortune

King Salman also broached the subject of the possibility of a Saudi-Israeli agreement, noting that “a solution to the Palestinian issue is the basis to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which entails normalization of ties between all Arab countries and Israel.” The conversation also included Trump’s thanks to the Saudis for permission allowing Israeli overflight of Saudi Arabia in transporting Israeli diplomats from Jerusalem to the first-ever UAE-Israel summit.

Just to keep our feet on the ground in the context of this complicated set of geopolitical maneuvers described herein, let’s quote an assessment in the New York Times of September 8 by Palestinian lawyer, Diane Butto. Suggesting that the UAE flight to Israel is “nothing to celebrate,” Ms. Butto opines that it is “A slap in the face of Palestinians, who can no longer count on Arab states for political support.”

Israeli Peace with Arab Countries Comes with Some Strings Attached
West bank Palestinians always last to be considered in any “deal” among geopolitical powers Credit Ynetnews

Conclusion

In a Trump transactional world of power politics, you have to give something to get something. In this case its U.S. prestige and state of the art aircraft in exchange for a diplomatic accord between two countries who’ve technically been hostile towards one another for many, many decades. And, Trump gets the bragging rights of a diplomatic coup just before the November election. However, perhaps he didn’t count on the UAE seeming insistence that the Trump-Kushner-Netanyahu annexation plan of Palestinian territory be curtailed. In this case, as it is said, “you win some, you lose some.”

Just Announced

Officials announced a special ceremony will be held in the White House on Sep.15 and will be attended by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.  According to reports, the UAE will be represented by Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

 

References
“UAE planning first official visit to Israel on Sept. 22,” Reuters, 9/7/2020
“Analysts: More Countries to Follow Suit After Israel/UAE Agreement,” Voice of America, 8/14/2020
“Trump puts Israel’s security in danger with a deal to sell fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates | Opinion,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Miami Herald, 9/5/2020

“Saudi King Stresses Palestinian Issue in Talk with Trump,” Middle East News, 9/7/2020

“The UAE-Israel Flight is nothing to celebrate, the New York Times, Diane Butto Opinion Piece, 9/8/2020

 

 

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

 

 

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