Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Incredible breaking news out of the Middle East. Israel and the United Arab Emirates appear on the way to a peace treaty signing on the White House lawn. Meetings are being set up on a whole host of bilateral issues and Tel Aviv City Hall has already lit up with the flag of the UAE. A few thoughts about all of this...
1. This is an absolutely historic moment. The prevailing thought had always been that the Gulf Arab countries would wait until a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians before making their own agreements.
2. We knew that there were secret military and diplomatic ties with many Gulf States which were accelerated due to Iran's hegemonic desires in the Middle East and drive towards a nuclear weapon. Those ties recently came out in the open. The UAE, Oman and Bahrain all sent diplomats to the reveal of the "Deal of the Century." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been to Oman and also met with the President of Sudan. Israeli athletes were allowed to participate in tournaments there and HaTikvah was even played in 2018 when an Israeli won a gold medal in judo. https://www.jta.org/2018/10/28/sports/israels-national-anthem-played-first-time-judo-tournament-abu-dhabi In the last few months the UAE began to take some of the shadow diplomacy out into the open. They sent two shipments of corona aid to the Palestinians - via a first-ever direct flight to Israel [which were subsequently rejected by the Palestinians since it was coordinated with Israel and not them]. Just two months ago the UAE wrote the first-ever op-ed in an Israeli newspaper by a Gulf diplomat, which clearly stated that they were ready for warmer ties and relations but that the annexation threatened all of that. This has led to what we see today.
Plus, just a few weeks after the op-ed was published, an announcement was made that an Israeli and UAE company (with their governments paving the way) decided to work together to fight the coronavirus. https://www.calcalistech.com/ctech/articles/0,7340,L-3837630,00.html
3. There has been a sea of change when it comes to the UAE's relationship with Jews as well. Unlike in virtually every other place in the Arab World, there are now functioning synagogues in the UAE and a Jewish school. A major synagogue is being built now as part of a multi-faith center. In 2016 they created a Ministry of Tolerance and they have taken that idea seriously. Just last week the UAE aided in reuniting a Yemenite Jewish family that had been separated for 15 years. https://www.ynetnews.com/article/HkuTEWg6I
4. It is only natural that the UAE would be the first country to break ranks and sign an agreement with Israel. Both Israel and the UAE are incredibly progressive, tolerant and innovative countries especially for the Middle East, if not in general. They have both made the desert bloom. They are both interested in space exploration. They have diverse and technologically-based economies as opposed to solely relying upon natural resources. They are both against Iran and its terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. And both of them are tired of waiting for the Palestinians to get their act together when there are so many bigger issues to deal with.
5. All that being said, there seems to be a disconnect between what US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu are saying and what the UAE (and Egypt) are saying. The deal is being touted by Netanyahu and Trump as a full treaty with the opening of diplomatic relations, exchange of embassies, etc. Yet the de factor ruler of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, gave a more subdued message, saying "The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a road map towards establishing a bilateral relationship." This might imply that full relations and exchanges of embassies will be contingent upon several negotiated upon factors (in addition to pressing pause on the annexation button). His foreign minister, however, was more direct about creating normal relations. The supposed joint statement does mention the establishment of reciprocal embassies. Yet Egypt, the largest Arab state - and the first one to make peace with Israel back in 1979 - also seemed to downplay it a bit. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi welcomed the agreement but did not talk of it as a peace treaty. "I followed with interest and appreciation the joint statement between the United States, United Arab Emirates and Israel to halt the Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands and taking steps to bring peace in the Middle East..I value the efforts of those in charge of the deal to achieve prosperity and stability for our region," Sisi said on Twitter. It is important that Israel gets this right. Netanyahu spoke too soon about the government deal on coronavirus beween Israel and the UAE last month, and had to walk it back after the UAE clarified that it was a deal between two private companies.
6. Both Netanyahu and Trump clearly needed a win right now and this agreement provides that. While many in Israel and the UAE would likely be happy to see Trump re-elected, as both see him as being stronger on Iran (their common enemy) than the Democrats [the only countries more against the Iran nuclear deal than Israel were most of the Gulf countries], this was not the reason for this deal. It having any effect on Trump's poll numbers - or Netanyahu's for that matter - is highly unlikely. As always, keep in mind that what Israel [and anyone else abroad] thinks about any US President, hardly ever takes into account US domestic policy. If you would like to know what Israelis think about Trump, click here: https://www.tourguideofisrael.com/post/one-state-two-state-red-state-blue-state
7. I don't believe Netanyahu was ever serious about the annexation bid [or applying Israeli sovereignty, extending Israeli law or any other version of that ]. He has had 14 years in power to do that unilaterally if he wanted to do so. And if you want to do that, you do it [like former Prime Minister Menachem Begin did with the Golan Heights], you don't mess around. The opportunity presented itself due to the "Deal of the Century" but Netanyahu wasn't going to do it without full US support which apparently wasn't coming.
8. It may have been a master stroke by Netanyahu to move the goalposts and to get a concession for not undertaking the annexation. It may have been a way for Netanyahu to dig himself out of the hole in which he had dug himself regarding the stalled annexation. This may have been a way for the UAE to make this deal while still being seen as supporting the Palestinians. Most likely, it may have just been an opportunity that was too good to pass up, and definitely worth more than a partial annexation.
9. There are people on the Israeli right who are not happy today - believing that Netanyahu gave up on a historic opportunity to annex parts of the Jewish people's historic heartland. The problem with that viewpoint is that Israel was not going to do this without full US approval, which it did not have. In essence, they wanted to pick and choose which parts of the "Deal of the Century" Israel should agree to implement - aka let's take what we want and is good for us and ignore those parts that are good for them. [interestingly this is why many settlers were against the deal in the first place]. Unfortunately, that is not how things work.
10. Netanyahu has said, however, that this is only a temporary halt to the annexation bid, but they will not do anything without US agreement. This is likely to placate his right-wing constituents, but obviously this would be a major slap in the face to the UAE if he were to try to push this through anytime soon [so at the minimum, not before the upcoming US elections]. Of course, in addition to some right-wing voters, Netanyahu also finds himself in some hot water with his coalition partner, the Blue and White Party. Despite the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister coming from Blue and White, they had no idea that any of this was happening. From his use of the first-person in his interviews, you can be assured that he was presenting this as a [badly needed] personal triumph [though to be honest, he has been working towards this for years, long before the Blue and White were even a party]. That being said, Blue and White were not wholehearted supporters of the annexation plan so this one indignity aside, they should be happy with this deal.
11. This deal really is a game changer. If this leads to peace with other Gulf States [which has been hinted at by both Netanyahu and Trump], it could completely isolate the Palestinians. If, however, it ends up like Israel's 1999 peace treaty with Mauritania [which every news network - even in Israel - seems to have forgotten about, since relations have been frozen with them since 2009], then it will be a waste. If Israel can diplomatically isolate the Palestinians, it might force them to finally look to the future, recognize Israel's right to exist [as a Jewish state] and come sit down at the table, which they have refused to do for years. It will be get on board or get left behind. One can dream at least. Either way, the Palestinians are not happy right now: https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/abu-dhabis-crown-prince-says-uae-israel-deal-will-halt-annexation-638546
Who would be next in line for a peace deal with Israel now that the ice is broken?
Start with Bahrain and Oman who attended the "Deal of the Century" reveal.
12. As a tour guide of Israel (www.tourguideofisrael.com) I cannot wait to be able to host our cousins from the UAE. Ahalan wasahalan.
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