“Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov” (& Peace for peace formula paying dividends)

August 14, 2020

Tel Aviv city hall lit up in the colors of the UAE national flag last night

 

SOME MEDIA REACTION TO THE HISTORIC UAE-ISRAEL PEACE DEAL

[Note by Tom Gross]

Following yesterday’s dispatch (Saudi & Bahrain next? UAE becomes third Arab country to make peace with Israel), below is some commentary from today’s newspapers on the Israel-UAE peace deal.

In the first article below, a Wall Street Journal editorial says “President Trump’s liberal critics insisted his strong backing for Israel, and his hard pushback against Iranian imperialism would lead to catastrophe. [Instead] Trump’s strategy has delivered a diplomatic achievement… the first Arab League country to recognize the Jewish state in 20 years…”

“For decades Israel was treated as a pariah state in the Middle East, but that era may be ending… Recall that mandarins of Obama foreign policy said moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would cause an Arab backlash. In fact, it is being followed by some of the closest Arab-U.S.-Israeli cooperation on record.”

 

RARE PRAISE FOR TRUMP AND KUSHNER IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

In the second piece, New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman gives some unusual (for the Times) backing for President Trump saying the president was right to call the deal his administration helped broker a “huge breakthrough.” Friedman, who has been a harsh critic of Trump and Netanyahu, calls the move yesterday “a breath of fresh air” and gives some cautious backing for “Trump’s peace plan drawn up by Jared Kushner” which he urges the Palestinian Authority to use as a basis for negotiations.

He notes: “The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, was also stripped of something by this deal, which may force him to the negotiating table. It stripped him of his biggest ace in the hole – the idea that the gulf Arabs would normalize with Israel only after the Israelis satisfied the demands of the Palestinian Authority with a state to its liking…

“This deal will certainly encourage the other gulf sheikhdoms – Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – all of which have had covert and overt business and intelligence dealings with Israel, to follow the Emirates’ lead. They will not want to let the U.A.E. have a leg up in being able to marry its financial capital with Israel’s cybertechnology, agriculture technology and health care technology, with the potential to make both countries stronger and more prosperous.”

***

(See also my article in The Spectator of April 4, 2019: Could Donald Trump unexpectedly triumph in his bid for peace in the Middle East?)

 

HARDLINERS IN THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY AND IRAN SLAM THE DEAL

In the third piece below, Haaretz notes various Middle East reaction. Senior PLO official (and a favorite guest of the BBC and CNN) Hanan Ashrawi accuses the UAE of “selling out” the PLO. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a “betrayal of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause.”

Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, likewise slammed the deal, saying it was “shameful.”

Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he welcomed “any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East region,” and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the deal, saying “Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov.”

The Gulf state of Bahrain was among those welcoming yesterday’s accord between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, state news agency BNA reported.

 

SAUDI DIVISIONS

In the fourth piece below, Stephen Kalin points out that while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), is eager to move ahead and sign a formal peace treaty with Israel, his father King Salman, who is 84 and in poor health, is resisting the move.

“The surprise move of the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties with Israel piles pressure on Saudi Arabia to follow suit” before other Gulf Arab nations such as Bahrain and Oman do so and get a head start.

 

BIDEN: “I WILL SEEK TO BUILD ON THIS PROGRESS”

In additional commentary not covered in the articles below:

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said: “Israel and the United Arab Emirates have taken a historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East. The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship. And it is a critical recognition that Israel is a vibrant, integral part of the Middle East that is here to stay. Israel can and will be a valued strategic and economic partner to all who welcome it … a Biden-Harris Administration will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace.”

 

NETANYAHU’S ISRAELI CRITICS GIVE HIM CREDIT

Writing in Haaretz today, Anshel Pfeffer, Netanyahu’s biographer and a fierce critic of the Israeli prime minister, says that that Netanyahu has achieved something that his predecessors, who were prepared to make major concessions to the Palestinians, only dreamed of – and he paid nothing for it beyond what he called the “temporary suspension” of the annexation he was never going to carry out anyway.

Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea writes that Netanyahu deserves credit for the historic agreement with the UAE, and says that the Israeli hard right will have to adjust its approach, after Netanyahu failed to push ahead with applying Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Another Yediot Ahronot columnist, Ben-Dror Yemini, asks: “Is it possible to reach peace with the Arab world without resolving the Palestinian issue, based on the formula of ‘peace in exchange for peace?” (rather than land for peace). He says yes it is, and yesterday’s deal undermines the central theory of the American and Israeli Left that if you don’t first cave into maximalist demands from the Palestinian Authority, Israel won’t be able to make peace with Arab countries.

***

Tom Gross adds: The central tenet of Netanyahu’s approach dating back decades, is that the only way the Palestinian Authority may agree to compromise and make a true peace agreement with Israel is if it sees that the Arab world is going to make peace with Israel anyway.

(Incidentally, for Arabic speakers you can see extracts from an interview I gave earlier today to BBC Arabic about the UAE-Israel accord, on the BBC Arabic website.)


CONTENTS

1. “Trump’s Mideast Breakthrough” (Wall St Journal editorial, Aug. 14, 2020)
2. “A Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast” (By Thomas Friedman, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2020)
3. “Palestinians Slam ‘Betrayal’ by UAE in Deal With Israel: ‘Reward of the Occupation’s Crimes’” (Haaretz, Aug. 14, 2020)
4. “Israel’s Normalization With U.A.E. Squeezes Saudi Arabia” (By Stephen Kalin, Wall St Journal, Aug. 14, 2020)

 

ARTICLES

TRUMP’S MIDEAST BREAKTHROUGH

Trump’s Mideast Breakthrough
The Israel-UAE accord discredits Obama’s regional vision.
Wall Street Journal editorial
Aug. 14, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-mideast-breakthrough-11597360774?mod=opinion_lead_pos3

President Trump’s Mideast strategy has been to strongly back Israel, support the Gulf monarchies, and press back hard against Iranian imperialism. His liberal critics insisted this would lead to catastrophe that never came, and on Thursday it delivered a diplomatic achievement: The United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to normalize relations, making the UAE the first Arab League country to recognize the Jewish state in 20 years.

The agreement is worth celebrating on its own terms but it also holds lessons for U.S. foreign policy. On regional strategy, this shows the benefit of the U.S. standing by its historic allies in the Middle East.
President Obama shunned Israel and the Gulf states and sought to normalize Iran. His nuclear deal, an economic boon to Tehran, was a means to that end. But Iran does not want to be normalized. It’s a revolutionary regime that wants to disrupt the non-Shiite countries, spread its military influence from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen, and destroy Israel.

Mr. Trump’s pivot from Iran reassured Israel and the Gulf states and put the U.S. in a position to broker agreements. Israel and the UAE have worked together covertly, but the agreement will allow deeper economic ties and strengthen regional checks on Iranian power. UAE’s move could also spur Bahrain and possibly Oman to seek the benefits, in Jerusalem and Washington, from closer Israel ties. For decades Israel was treated as a pariah state in the Middle East, but that era may be ending.

As for the Israel-Palestine question, as part of the deal Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to call off annexation of parts of the West Bank. Public support in Israel for annexation was shaky. It was also opposed by the military establishment and would have carried diplomatic costs. With the UAE deal, Mr. Netanyahu can avoid annexation while protecting against criticism from his right.

The UAE can say it blocked annexation and protected the Palestinian cause. But the fact that annexation was a bargaining chip at all shows how the balance of power in the Israel-Palestine conflict has shifted in Israel’s favor. Arab states would previously have demanded far greater concessions in exchange for recognition. But the Iran threat, plus the Palestinians’ long-running rejectionism, has made that issue less important to Arab states.

Recall that mandarins of Obama foreign policy said moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would cause an Arab backlash. In fact, it is being followed by some of the closest Arab-U.S.-Israeli cooperation on record. Larger strategic realities in the Middle East are more important and are driving this change.

One question is whether a Joe Biden Administration would grasp this, or whether it would follow the Obama model of retrenchment against Iran plus browbeating Israelis for their supposed moral failings. The Biden campaign praised the deal while Ben Rhodes, an architect of Obama Administration policy, blasted it for “the total exclusion of Palestinians.”

Yet the coterie of anti-Israel and Iran-friendly Democratic foreign-policy hands may soon find their influence reduced. The UAE deal strengthens the anti-Iran coalition and withdraws an excuse – annexation – that the left could use to attack Israel. Whoever wins in November, the breakthrough leaves the U.S. in a better position in the Middle East.

 

A GEOPOLITICAL EARTHQUAKE JUST HIT THE MIDEAST

A Geopolitical Earthquake Just Hit the Mideast
The Israel-United Arab Emirates deal will be felt throughout the region.
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
Aug. 14, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/13/opinion/israel-uae.html

For once, I am going to agree with President Trump in his use of his favorite adjective: “huge.”

The agreement brokered by the Trump administration for the United Arab Emirates to establish full normalization of relations with Israel, in return for the Jewish state forgoing, for now, any annexation of the West Bank, was exactly what Trump said it was in his tweet: a “HUGE breakthrough.”

It is not Anwar el-Sadat going to Jerusalem – nothing could match that first big opening between Arabs and Israelis. It is not Yasir Arafat shaking Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn – nothing could match that first moment of public reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

But it is close. Just go down the scorecard, and you see how this deal affects every major party in the region – with those in the pro-American, pro-moderate Islam, pro-ending-the-conflict-with-Israel-once-and-for-all camp benefiting the most and those in the radical pro-Iran, anti-American, pro-Islamist permanent-struggle-with-Israel camp all becoming more isolated and left behind.

It’s a geopolitical earthquake.

To fully appreciate why, you need to start with the internal dynamics of the deal. It was Trump’s peace plan drawn up by Jared Kushner, and their willingness to stick with it, that actually created the raw material for this breakthrough. Here is how.

The Kushner plan basically called for Israel and the Palestinians to make peace, with Israel being able to annex some 30 percent of the West Bank, where most of its settlers were, and the Palestinians getting to establish a demilitarized, patchwork state on the other 70 percent, along with some land swaps from Israel.

The Palestinians rejected the deal outright as unbalanced and unjust. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who basically helped to write the very pro-Israel plan, said he intended to proceed with the annexation part of the plan by July 1 – without agreeing to the part that his political base of Jewish settlers rejected: Palestinians later getting a state on the other 70 percent. (I wonder if Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a pro-settler extremist himself, encouraged Bibi to think he could get away with this.)

It didn’t work, because Kushner, who was hearing regularly from Egypt, Jordan and the gulf Arabs that such a unilateral Israeli annexation would be a total deal-breaker for them, told Bibi, “Not so fast.” Kushner persuaded Trump to block Bibi’s cherry-picking of the plan by taking annexation now.

This was causing Netanyahu to lose support from the settlers – and, at a time when he is on trial on corruption charges and facing daily protests outside his home over his poor performance in leading Israel out of the coronavirus epidemic, left him sinking in the polls.

So what Trump, Kushner, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto leader of the Emirates, and Netanyahu did was turn lemons into lemonade, explained Itamar Rabinovich, one of Israel’s leading Middle East historians and a former ambassador to Washington.

“Instead of Israeli annexation for a Palestinian state, they made it Israeli non-annexation in return for peace with the U.A.E.,” said Rabinovich in an interview. Kushner, he added, “basically generated an asset out of nothing, which Israel could then trade for peace with the U.A.E. It was peace for peace, not land for peace.”

This process apparently started after the U.A.E.’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, published a letter in Hebrew in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot in June directly warning that Israeli annexation of the West Bank would undermine the quiet progress Israel had made with the gulf Arabs.

The U.A.E. had been mulling going for more open diplomatic ties with Israel for a while, but it was the discussions over how to stop annexation that created a framework where the U.A.E. could be seen as getting something for the Palestinians in return for its normalization with Israel.

The Netanyahu dynamics here are fascinating, or as Israeli writer Ari Shavit remarked to me: “Netanyahu is trying to get out of his own personal Watergate by going to China. He’s like Nixon in reverse.”

What he meant was that Netanyahu had been doing everything he could to appease the right-wing forces in Israel – with shiny objects like annexation – so they would side with him in his corruption trial against Israel’s court system and attorney general.

By taking this deal, Netanyahu, as Nixon did with China, abandoned his natural ideological allies – the settlers who supported him because they thought he would deliver annexation – “and this will force Netanyahu to become more dependent on the center and center-right in Israel going forward,” said Shavit. “This deal may help save Israeli democracy by now depriving Bibi” of the full army of right-wing forces “he needed to destroy the Israeli Supreme Court.”

The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, was also stripped of something by this deal, which may force him to the negotiating table. It stripped him of his biggest ace in the hole – the idea that the gulf Arabs would normalize with Israel only after the Israelis satisfied the demands of the Palestinian Authority with a state to its liking.

(Free advice for Abbas: Come back to the table now and say you view the Trump plan as a “floor,” not a “ceiling” for Palestinian aspirations. You will find a lot of support from Trump, the Europeans and the Arabs for that position. You still have leverage. Israel still has to deal with you, because your people in the West Bank are not going to just disappear, no matter what happens with the U.A.E. and Israel.)

This deal will certainly encourage the other gulf sheikhdoms – Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – all of which have had covert and overt business and intelligence dealings with Israel, to follow the Emirates’ lead. They will not want to let the U.A.E. have a leg up in being able to marry its financial capital with Israel’s cybertechnology, agriculture technology and health care technology, with the potential to make both countries stronger and more prosperous.

Three other big winners here are: 1) King Abdullah of Jordan. He feared that Israeli annexation would energize efforts to turn Jordan into the Palestinian state. That threat is for the moment defused. 2) The American Jewish community. If Israel had annexed part of the West Bank, it would have divided every synagogue and Jewish community in America, between hard-line annexationists and liberal anti-annexationists. This was a looming disaster. Gone for now. And 3) Joe Biden. Biden, if he succeeds Trump, will not have to worry about the thorny issue of annexation, and he should have a much stronger pro-American alliance in the region to work with.

The big geopolitical losers are Iran and all of its proxies: Hezbollah, the Iraqi militias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and Turkey. This is for a number of reasons. Up to now, the U.A.E. has kept up a delicate balance between Iran and Israel, not looking to provoke Iran, and dealing with Israel covertly.

But this deal is right in Iran’s face. The tacit message is: “We now have Israel on our side, so don’t mess with us.” The vast damage Israel inflicted on Iran through apparent cyberwarfare in recent months may have even given the U.A.E. more breathing room to do this deal.

But there is another message, deeper, more psychological. This was the U.A.E. telling the Iranians and all their proxies: There are really two coalitions in the region today – those who want to let the future bury the past and those who want to let the past keep burying the future. The U.A.E. is taking the helm of the first, and it is leaving Iran to be the leader of the second.

When the Trump administration assassinated Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign-operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in January, I wrote a column saying that America had just killed “the dumbest man in Iran.”

Why? Because what was Suleimani’s business model, which became Shiite Iran’s business model? It was to hire Arab and other Shiites to fight Arab Sunnis in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria – to project Iran’s power. And what was the result of all this? Iran has helped to turn all four into failed states. Iran’s clerical leadership has become the largest facilitator of state failure in the Middle East – including its own – which is why so many Lebanese blame it and Hezbollah for their country’s mismanagement that led to the devastating explosion last week in Beirut’s port.

I have followed the Middle East for too long to ever write the sentence “the region will never be the same again.” The forces of sectarianism, tribalism, corruption and anti-pluralism run deep there. But there are other currents – young men and women who are just so tired of the old game, the old fights, the old wounds being stoked over and over again. You could see them demonstrating all over the streets of Beirut last week demanding good governance and a chance to realize their full potential.

The U.A.E. and Israel and the U.S. on Thursday showed – at least for one brief shining moment – that the past does not always have to bury the future, that the haters and dividers don’t always have to win.

It was a breath of fresh air. May it one day soon turn into a howling wind of change that spreads across the whole region.

 

PALESTINIANS SLAM ‘BETRAYAL’ BY UAE IN DEAL WITH ISRAEL: ‘REWARD OF THE OCCUPATION’S CRIMES’

Palestinians Slam ‘Betrayal’ by UAE in Deal With Israel: ‘Reward of the Occupation’s Crimes’

UAE defends normalization with Israel, which it says ‘stopped annexation of Palestinian lands,’ while top PLO official lashes out at UAE for ‘selling out’ Palestinians

Haaretz news report
August 14, 2020

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-plo-official-lashes-out-at-uae-for-selling-out-palestinians-in-israel-agreement-1.9071095

The announcement on Thursday of normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates drew harsh responses from Palestinian officials and organizations, with senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi accusing the crown prince of “selling out” her people and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas convening an emergency meeting of Palestinian leaders ahead of a statement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he “rejects and denounces the surprising announcement by Israel, the United States and the UAE,” and called it a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause.” A senior adviser to Abbas read the statement from outside the PA president’s Ramallah headquarters.

Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation,” senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi wrote on Twitter. She also said the UAE has come forward with its “secret dealings/normalization with Israel.”

“Please don’t do us a favor. We are nobody’s fig leaf!” she wrote.

In another tweet, addressed at the UAE’s crown prince, she wrote: “May you never experience the agony of having your country stolen; may you never feel the pain of living in captivity under occupation; may you never witness the demolition of your home or murder of your loved ones. May you never be sold out by your ‘friends.’”

According to the agreement, brokered by the United States, Israel had agreed to stop plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The Palestinians have repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalize relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.

The Hamas militant group accused the United Arab Emirates of stabbing the Palestinians in the back by agreeing to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel. “This announcement is a reward for the Israeli occupation’s crimes,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “The normalization is a stabbing in the back of our people.”

Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, likewise slammed deal, saying it was “shameful.”

While Iran’s clerical leaders did not immediately react to the deal, a special adviser on international affairs to the speaker of Iran’s parliament condemned it on Twitter. “UAE’s new approach for normalizing ties w/fake, criminal #Israel doesn’t maintain peace & security, but serves ongoing Zionists’ crimes,” tweeted Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, also a former deputy foreign minister. “Abu Dhabi’s behavior has no justification, turning back on the Palestine cause. W/ that strategic mistake, #UAE will be engulfed in Zionism fire.”

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin meanwhile hailed an “impressive achievement” and said he has invited Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed to visit Jerusalem.

Several Israeli lawmakers meanwhile welcomed the news.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is also the so-called alternate prime minister under a power sharing deal, said Thursday’s agreement expressed an “alliance” between countries in the region who aim for stability and prosperity. He said the agreement will have “many positive implications” on the region and called on other Arab states to pursue peace deals with Israel.

He thanked U.S. President Donald Trump, calling him a “true friend of Israel.”

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, part of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, said he welcomed Israel’s backing down from “unilateral annexation” of the West Bank, saying Trump’s Mideast plan would be discussed in consultation with countries in the region.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said “negotiations and agreements, not unilateral steps like annexation” were key to Israel’s diplomatic relations.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomes “any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East region,” a UN spokesman said after the announcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the deal. “This is a remarkable achievement for two of the world’s most forward leaning, technologically advanced states, and reflects their shared regional vision of an economically integrated region,” he said in a statement. “It also illustrates their commitment to confronting common threats, as small – but strong – nations.”

He added: “Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov.”

Top Emirati official Anwar Gargash told reporters Thursday that the move dealt a “death blow” to moves by Israel to annex Palestinian lands.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told reporters on Thursday that the Emiratis wanted to “try and put one on one together” and develop an organic relationship that was already existing in many fields.

“Let us try and get something tangible,” he said.

He described it as a “bold step.” “We’ve come up with a realization,” he said. “Our relationship has not always been central... but we came out and argued that in every difficult political file in the region, when you do have bridges and contacts you become more important and influential in trying to affect results and trying to help.”

“The UAE is using its gravitas and promise of a relationship to unscrew a time bomb that is threatening a two-state solution,” Gargash said. When asked about a time frame for embassies opening, Gargash said it will not be long and “this is for real”. “We are not talking about step by step.”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hend Al Otaiba defended the agreement in a tweet, saying: “The three-way call resulted in an agreement to stop Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands. UAE has worked strenuously over the past months for this diplomatic achievement, which will bring stability to the region and support the peace process.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meanwhile reacted positively to the news.

“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,” Sisi said on Twitter.

“I value the efforts of those in charge of the deal to achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Jordan said that the deal could push forward stalled peace negotiations if it succeeds in prodding Israel to accept a Palestinian state. “If Israel dealt with it as an incentive to end occupation ... it will move the region towards a just peace,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a statement on state media.

The Gulf state of Bahrain welcomed an accord between the United Arab Emirates and Israel which stops Israeli annexation plans and raises the chances of peace, state news agency BNA said on Thursday.

The small island state of Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which has not yet commented on the agreement to normalize diplomatic ties announced on Thursday.

Bahrain praised the Untied States for its efforts towards securing the deal.

(The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.)

 

ISRAEL’S NORMALIZATION WITH U.A.E. SQUEEZES SAUDI ARABIA

Israel’s Normalization With U.A.E. Squeezes Saudi Arabia
The U.S. could exert significant leverage, given President Trump’s unwavering support for the Saudi crown prince
By Stephen Kalin
Wall Street Journal
Aug. 14, 2020

https://www.wsj.com/articles/israels-normalization-with-u-a-e-squeezes-saudi-arabia-11597397402

The surprise move of the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties with Israel piles pressure on Saudi Arabia to follow suit – at the risk of inflaming public sentiment and breaking from the monarchy’s track record of promoting the Palestinian cause.

Other Gulf Arab nations such as Bahrain and Oman – which have already held high-level public meetings and given tentative backing to a U.S. proposal for Middle East peace – are more likely to move closer to Israel first, officials and analysts said.

But given President Trump’s unwavering support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, particularly in the face of intense international criticism over the 2018 killing of a dissident Saudi journalist, the U.S. administration also has significant leverage should it try to extract another diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East.

“They’ve got to be feeling pressure. But as long as Salman is king it won’t happen,” said Kirsten Fontenrose of the Atlantic Council think tank.

Prince Mohammed has spearheaded Saudi Arabia’s warming outreach to Israel in recent years and quietly pressed the Palestinians to support President Trump’s peace plan from its early inception.

But King Salman, 84 and in poor health, has taken pains to reiterate the monarchy’s steadfast support for an independent Palestinian state and an Arab League plan that has formed the basis for broad Arab normalization with Israel for two decades.

Saudi Arabia, which hosts the holiest Muslim sites in Mecca and Medina, has long claimed the mantle of Islamic leadership. A turnaround on Israel could spark domestic unrest.

“Saudi Arabia will probably eventually follow a similar path, but it will be more hesitant and move slower,” Ayham Kamel, Middle East head at political-risk advisory firm Eurasia Group, said in a note. “The deal could not have been sealed without some form of coordination with Riyadh.”

David Schenker, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, said the U.S. was talking about normalization with other states “that have quiet relations with Israel and find it very much in their interest,” but denied that explicit pressure was being applied.

He compared the U.A.E. deal with Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, which was followed 15 years later by one with Jordan. “I would expect that this too will have an impact on regional perceptions and how states define their interests and what they can do to advance those interests,” Mr. Schenker said in an online interview with the Kuwait-based Reconnaissance Research think tank.

Following the announcement, the Palestinian Authority warned Arab countries against “bowing” to American pressure and following in Abu Dhabi’s footsteps. It recalled its ambassador from the U.A.E.

Trump administration officials said they were cautiously optimistic that Saudi Arabia would be willing to follow suit in a few years. Prince Mohammed’s ascension to the throne, expected within a few years, could speed up the thawing relations with Israel.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the U.A.E. had not contacted its allies before Thursday’s three-way call with Israel and the U.S. But one U.S. official said Riyadh was told in advance that the deal was coming.

In addition to domestic concerns, Saudi Arabia is wary of criticism from regional rivals Iran and Turkey, which both also aspire to lead the Muslim world.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a special adviser on international affairs to the speaker of Iran’s parliament, slammed the U.A.E. deal, tweeting: “Abu Dhabi behavior has no justification, turning back on the Palestine cause. W/ that strategic mistake, UAE will be engulfed in Zionism fire.”

 

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