The Israel-United Arab Emirates and Bahrain Deals

Shalom all,

It’s been quite a week. What began with an announcement on 13th August, 2020, came to realization last Tuesday (15th September) with the signing of what has been designated as the “Abraham Accords” on the lawn of the White House. Israel signed two agreements – one with the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) and another with Bahrain. All three countries signed The Abraham Accords Declaration. Israel and the UAE also signed “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between The United Arab Emirates and The State of Israel”. Israel and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords: “Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations”. The full text of all three documents can be seen here.  While the document signed with the UAE is designated as a Treaty of Peace, the one signed with Bahrain is designated as a Declaration of Peace. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is probably the first international agreement negotiated and concluded, prior to signing, via Zoom.

A peace agreement was signed with Egypt in 1979 and another was signed with Jordan in 1994. Since then and until a week ago, no other “peace agreement” was signed with any Arab country in the region. There is no question that after a lapse of 27 years, the signing of two “peace agreements” on the same day, between Israel and two Arab Moslem countries, is certainly an historic event. There is no doubt that all three countries will benefit from the agreements that were signed. Even my daughter, who makes natural soaps and candles, received an online order from someone in the UAE only a few days following the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the agreements, stating that they “[bring] hope to all of the children of Abraham” and usher in a “new era of peace.” He added that the deal with the UAE was for “full, formal peace” [with] one of the strongest countries in the world.” The interesting thing to note is that “peace agreements” were signed with two countries who were never at war with Israel, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. In a practical sense, the agreements that were signed were normalization agreements that allow for the signatory countries to estabish diplomatic relations with one another and all that flows from well-intentioned, good faith agreements signed between sovereign nations.

For Israel, it is a major accomplishment. It crushed the long-standing, Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by the Arab League in 2002. That “initiative” calls for full diplomatic ties to be established between Israel and the entire Arab and Muslim world, conditioned on: the “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967,” the establishment of a “Palestinian” state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the “Palestinian” refugee question. That initiative, which never had a realistic possibility of being implemented, at least not under Netanyahu’s watch, is a cloud without water and will, hopefully, die a rapid death, as other countries in the region line up to follow the lead set by the UAE and Bahrain and as other countries decide to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem. But, the Middle East being the Middle East, it is also possible that those Arab and Muslim countries who are, or will be, in the process of normalizing relations with Israel could form a coalition of “friendly countries” and make a coordinated effort to pressure Israel to make peace with the “Palestinians” along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative, although it would be a somewhat modified initiative. When that peace doesn’t happen, the “normalization of relations” will be tested to the limit.

Still, normalization with the UAE and Bahrain is also a wake-up call to the “Palestinians”, in that they can no longer control the establishment of “peaceful relations” between Israel and sovereign Arab states that share security and other interests. It should also send a message to the entire Arab bloc that the cause of the “Palestinians” is of less importance to some Arab countries than the issue of containing the threat posed by Iran. Another factor to take into account is that the longer the “Palestinians” remain adamant in refusing to recognize Israel as an independent, sovereign country, the more it will become isolated from the more moderate-thinking Arab countries, who recognize that peace canbe made with a right-wing, Israeli government.

The agreement with UAE and Bahrain was made without Israel having to actively give away any territory, which had always been a pre-requisite for entering into any agreement with the “Palestinians”. Netanyahu was convinced that “this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.”

As an optimist, I would want to agree with Netanyahu’s statement. But, I am not a politician, so I don’t have to make broad, sweeping statements that are unrealistic. It is encouraging that there are countries in this region whose leadership have enough common sense to realize that Israel is here to stay, that Israel is not a threat to them, that establishing normalization with Israel will have practical, and even spiritual, benefits that flow from the outworking of the Abrahamic Covenant: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen. 12:3).

Almost immediately after the announcement was made in August that the UAE and Israel were going to establish normalization, or call it whatever you want, the major question that arose was “What is this going to cost Israel?” It didn’t take long for the question to be answered. 

First:it generated a freeze to the plans of annexation. Netanyahu claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump asked him to put a “temporary halt” to annexation of portions of Judea and Samaria, as part of the deal to be concluded with the UAE and potentially with other Arab countries. Nevertheless, Netanyahu claims to remain committed to applying sovereignty in Judea and Samara, which will be coordinated with the U.S. President Trump, who on the other hand, emphatically stated that annexation was no longer a matter for discussion. “Israel has agreed not to do it. More than off the table, they have agreed not to do it…I think that very important. I think it was a great concession by Israel, I think it was a smart concession.” Trump’s Ambassador to Israel then stepped in and said that annexation was off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently. Add to that the statement of Senior White House official, Jared Kushner, that President Trump would not allow Israel to go back on its pledge to defer  plans for establishing sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria in exchange for normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates: “President Trump is committed to holding them accountable to it, and Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent…[and] we do not plan to give our consent for some time, as right now the focus has to be on getting this new peace agreement implemented.” 

From the UAE side, there is the statement by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the UAE, made on the same day of the announcement of the upcoming process of normalization, that an agreement was reached “to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” adding afterwards, that the two sides “also  agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.” The order of his comments is important: stopping the planned annexation and then establishing a bilateral relationship. To this, we need to add and reflect on the statement of the Director of Strategic Communications at the Foreign Ministry of the UAE, Hend al-Otaiba, that Abu Dhabi remains committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative. Or, as stated by another UAE spokesperson: “A two-state solution is at the heart of the Arab Peace Initiative. In the absence of a freeze on annexation, a two-state solution will quickly cease to be a possibility.” So, who are we going to believe? There are probably pieces of truth from all of them. The question is: What pieces?

Second:Behind the scenes and the rhetoric of the politicians was the “business deal” whereby the U.S. would sell F-35 fighters to the UAE. It is to be understood that Israel and the UAE have been in a normalization mode for years, the formalization of which was enabled through the intermediary of the U.S. The UAE is a very close neighbor of Iran, physically, a fact that undoubtedly weighed heavily in Abu Dhabi’s thinking of the risk involved in normalization with Israel versus the benefits, including the security benefit, to be derived by it, the most immediate of which is the sale of F-35 advanced, stealth-fighter planes to the Emirates. Warming up to Jerusalem was a warming up also to Washington.

The sale of F-35s to the UAE has prompted inquiry and concern in Israel. The primary concern is the potential loss of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East, a qualitative edge to which the U.S. was legally committed. Those who oppose the sale point to the instability of the region and that if the U.S. sells the F-35s stealth fighters, the U.S. would be hard-pressed to sell them to other countries in the Middle East with whom the U.S. maintains strong ties, such as Saudi Arabia, which is strongly committed to the Arab Initiative. Those who don’t object to the sale see it as a trust-building measure with Israel’s “new partner” that could strengthen the normalization process with the UAE. With this reasoning, those who are supportive of the sale believe that the fledgling normalization agreement would run into difficulties at the outset, endangering the newly-established relationship. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu denied that he consented to the sale of F-35s to the UAE. But, the failure to actively consent does not eliminate the strong possibility, or even probability, that there was passive acceptance of the sale, in order to conclude the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE. It should be clear that the QME that Israel has is not dependent solely upon its supremacy in the air, but on its overall tactical, military edge over its neighbors. Still, from a strictly human perspective, air superiority has always been a prominent factor in Israel’s military achievements.

President Trump is still a businessman and he sees almost all things from a business perspective. So, only a week after the announcement of the “peace/normalization” agreements, he expressed a willingness to move forward with the sale to the UAE. After all, it’s all about money: “They’d like to buy the F-35, it’s under review, we’ll see what happens. They have the money to pay.”According to reports in the U.S. media, Jared Kushnir, Trump’s son-in-law, brokered the deal for the UAE to buy F-35s, inasmuch as his father-in-law has no problem with it and even sees it as an asset, not as a liability. So, despite objections from Israel, the deal for selling F-35s to the UAE is moving forward and may be concluded before the end of this year.  

Would the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE have taken place without Israel’s agreement not to move forward with annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria? Would last week’s event have taken place without the understanding that the U.S. would sell advanced, stealth fighters to the UAE, without the tacit consent of Israel’s Prime Minister? I strongly doubt it. Both Trump and Netanyahu needed a public-relations shot in the arm for different reasons. In politics, the timing of events is often a key factor in swaying voter opinion. It is the rare politician whose “yes” means “yes” and whose “no” means “no”. Foreign policy success can never be an adequate substitute for domestic failure. A good, international business deal should never be the basis for compromising on Israel’s security. 

Lockdown on Rosh Hashana. One more thing. A partial lockdown was imposed immediately before the start of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). It will last for 3 weeks and then a decision will be made whether it should be continued or not, and if so, how. In the meantime, there is considerable opposition to the lockdown. Numbers of those who tested positive for Covid-19 continue to climb, while large segments of the population continue to ignore the guidelines of the Health Department. The politics of the pandemic!

Yes, it’s been quite a week. 

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth…Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121: 1-2 4)

May the Lord bless you from Zion (Psalm 128:5; 134:3)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

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