| Who was really behind the Israel-UAE deal?
On August 13th, Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize relations, making the latter only the third Arab state to formally recognize Israel. President Trump facilitated and largely took credit for the deal — also known as the Abraham Accord, due to the religious significance of the region — which states that Israel will “suspend declaring sovereignty” over territory in the West Bank, according to a White House Press Release.
The West Bank has been a point of contention between Israel and Palestine for decades. The international community largely sees the Israeli settlements in the region as illegal under international law — however, this is disputed by the United States. Donald Trump is the first U.S. President to support partial annexation of the West Bank.
Some foreign policy experts, such as Natan Sachs, say that it was because of Trump’s support for annexation and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to carry it out that led to negotiations between the UAE and Israel. The UAE was concerned that an annexation of the West Bank would cause discord among their Palestinian allies as well harm their relations with Israel, and so they sought a diplomatic solution.
Other foreign policy experts, like Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute, have added that it is possible that Netanyahu expects Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. “Joe” Biden to take over Trump’s seat in the Oval Office. Because Biden does not support annexation, the Abraham accords could have offered Netanyahu a way to back down on annexation while saving face and protecting Israel’s long-standing relationship with the United States.
Although the UAE and Israel did not have formally established diplomatic ties, they had already been expanding relations in intelligence, technology, military, business, and politics for some time before the Abraham Accord. They also share a common enemy in Iran, which has become an increasingly threatening presence in the region. Thus, analysts say that the deal was not entirely unexpected.
In the deal, as outlined by a press report from the White House, Israel and the UAE agreed to expand diplomatic, trade and security cooperation. According to Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, the UAE’s recognition of Israel may also lead others in the region, such as Bahrain and Sudan, to do the same. This could put pressure on Iran, which has harshly condemned the Abraham Accord.
Undoubtedly, this is a big step for the Middle East, which is widely regarded as the most unstable region in the world. Dozens of foreign policy experts and politicians, regardless of political affiliations, including Joe Biden, have supported the deal.
While most actors seem to agree that the deal was the right move, not everyone agrees with how we got there. The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Senior Advisor Jared Kushner touting Trump’s involvement. In the op-ed, Kushner credits “the strategic policy shift undertaken by President Trump three and a half years ago that laid the foundation for the breakthrough the world witnessed this week.”
However, far from being a deliberate strategic move, the Israel-UAE deal may be seen as an anomaly in terms of Trump’s foreign policy. It seems like a mistake to credit Trump for the deal given that his administration’s actions in the Middle East have been largely contradictory and uniquely destructive. From escalating tensions with Iran through withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal, reinstating sanctions and assassinating General Qasem Soleimani, to ignoring America’s largely neutral role in the Israel-Palestine conflict by announcing that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump has done the opposite of lay the foundation for diplomacy. To top it off, even while tensions escalate with Iran, the Trump administration has also removed troops from Syria and Afghanistan, weakening the United State’s stance in the region and sending conflicting messages.
Indeed, as best stated by Council on Foreign Relations member and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk in Foreign Affairs, “the breakthrough looks more like the latest in a long chain of unintended consequences”.
Trump, however, has swiftly taken advantage of the deal as one of the foremost accomplishments of his administration, stating that he “wanted it to be called the ‘Donald J. Trump Accord.’” Especially considering the election in November, it’s important to see this claim as the latest of his self-promoting lies. Even in the midst of this supposed success, Trump’s blunders shouldn’t be forgotten.