Now we’re talking the Art of the Deal!
While it is not unusual in political circles to describe something as an historic breakthrough, it is unusual when the term is justified. Yet that is the right way to describe the three-way agreement announced Thursday by the Trump White House, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.
Based on its immediate impact alone, you can even call this one an earthquake. In an instant, regional fault lines are redrawn and the door is thrown open for Israel to normalize its relations with other Arab states.
The agreement also dramatically turns up the heat on the Palestinians to make a deal, lest they find themselves further isolated in their standoff with Israel.
“It means they either have to finally come to the negotiating table, or keep going where they’ve been going,” Jared Kushner, the top American official involved in crafting the terms, told me.
Indeed, there is a sweetener in the deal aimed at the Palestinians. Israel’s agreement to suspend its plan to assert sovereignty over much of the West Bank is a huge concession that buys time for the Palestinians, but not endlessly. Kushner defined the suspension as covering the “foreseeable future.”
He said UAE leaders were concerned that the Israeli move would be a “big setback in relationships” and thus pushed for the suspension.
Meanwhile, establishing formal diplomatic relations and starting direct airline flights means Muslims from the UAE will be able to fly to Israel and visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. That opening shreds the claim from Islamists that Israel prevents them from worshipping at the mosques, among Islam’s holiest sites.
The enormous trade-offs vindicate President Trump’s policy of strengthening America’s alliance with Israel and countering Muslim extremists. The usual critics, including Democrats, most European governments and United Nations bureaucrats, predicted that Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Avid to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights would lead to greater Arab unity and possibly war.
In effect, the critics were endorsing the very policy the Obama-Biden administration pursued, which yielded only negative results. The former team gave Israel, Saudi Arabia and other traditional allies the back of the hand while wooing the Palestinians and Iran. In exchange, it got nothing except Palestinian intransigence and an emboldened an aggressive Iran.
By going in the opposite direction, Trump, Kushner and ambassador David Friedman are using strengthened American-Israeli ties as a rallying point for Arab states who fear Iran more than Israel.
With its signature, the UAE becomes the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state and the first since Jordan and Israel signed their peace treaty in 1994. Egypt and Israel agreed to a formal peace in 1979.
Those deals were certainly monumental and, despite tensions, remain stabilizing factors amidst regional chaos. The UAE deal could prove to be just as significant and has the added element of coming out of nowhere to catch the world by complete surprise.
The UAE becomes the first Gulf Arab state to normalize relations with Israel and already there is speculation that others could soon follow, including the Saudis, Oman and Bahrain.
“This changes the paradigm of diplomacy in the region,” said Dore Gold, a veteran Israeli ambassador and former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “While this doesn’t preclude an Israeli-Palestinian relationship, it eliminates the Palestinian veto over Middle East peace.”
It also rattles Iran’s cage. Although the Saudis and others have had back-channel security relationships with Israel, the fact that the UAE, a predominately Sunni confederation of seven emirates, formally recognizes what Iran calls the “Little Satan” has to drive the mullahs crazy.
In times past, that would likely mean that Gen. Qasem Soleimani would unleash his Quds Forces to create mayhem and try to force concessions in the face of terror. But Trump gave the go-ahead to take out Soleimani last January, so the chances of Iran stirring the pot are greatly diminished, along with its economy, thanks to US sanctions.
Of course, this being the Mideast, nothing is ever completely settled. But there is no denying that Thursday’s pact strengthens the hand of those who want peace and expands the American-led alliance in ways that the naysayers never believed possible.
In that context, let’s see if Biden and the hate-Trump media have the integrity to acknowledge the success of Trump’s diplomacy. Or are they so besotted with rage that they are willing even to denounce peace treaties?
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