This week, history was made on the White House South Lawn as two Arab monarchies normalized their relationship with Israel with a ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump. “We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn on Tuesday. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East. In Israel’s entire history, there have previously been only two such agreements. Now we have achieved two in a single month. And there are more to follow.”
He was joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani. “The search for peace is an innate principle, yet principles are effectively realized when they are transformed into action,” the Emirati diplomat said. “Today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East, a change that will send hope around the world.
Their respective nations are located on the Persian Gulf, Sunni Muslim monarchies that have diversified their economies by welcoming tourists, encouraging investment, and transforming once-sleepy coastal towns into soaring metropolises within one generation. Like Israel, their push towards modernization is threatened by Iran, which has been sponsoring terrorist movements across the region.
The UAE and Bahrain are now the third and fourth Arab nations to exchange ambassadors with Israel, following Egypt and Jordan. But what makes the Abraham Accord transformative in Israeli-Arab relations is that Israel did not have to surrender an inch of land in exchange for peace. So far, the only condition on the table was for Netanyahu to roll back his promise to annex the Jordan Valley and to maintain his government’s commitment towards the two-state solution.
In turn, the two Gulf nations have gone farther than Egypt and Jordan in fostering normalization: direct flights, the Israeli anthem playing in public venues, kosher food at hotels, encouraging Israeli tourism, business, growth of local Jewish communities, and positive coverage of Israel in national media. In contrast, the best example of Egyptian-Israeli cultural exchange is The Band’s Visit, a fictional story of an Egyptian military band on a visit to the Jewish state. Already we are seeing Israeli actors, models, and musicians in Dubai meeting their Emirati counterparts.
Former peace negotiator Dennis Ross, who negotiated agreements between Israel and the Palestinians during the Clinton administration, noted that while Arab states maintain their solidarity with the Palestinians, they do not hold veto power on the relations between Israel and individual Arab nations. “Palestinians cannot freeze the region and prevent open cooperation with Israel,” Ross told The New York Times. “The UAE and Bahrain are countries not in a state of war with Israel and have quietly cooperated with it.”
Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, who represented the US in Tel Aviv during the Obama administration, was less appreciative of President Trump’s role. “President Trump and his team get their share of credit, as any sitting administration would. They got a huge assist from the UAE, which provided an off-ramp for the terrible Trump-endorsed idea of Israeli annexation of the West Bank,” he tweeted. “Fortunately, Israel and the US made the right choice. In addition to opening new official ties with Arab states, burying annexation helps keep the two-state solution alive. Palestinians may be unhappy today. But there are possibilities toward a better future for them.”
As history has shown numerous times, the Palestinians are missing yet another opportunity. Last week, they attempted to pass a resolution in the Arab League condemning the Abraham Accords. The effort failed, as Palestinian tempers flared at the gulf monarchies.
“With all pride, Palestine wanted a decision from the Arab foreign ministers that rejects and condemns the Emirati normalization, prevents the Arab decline and preserves the legacy of the Arab League,” wrote Mohannad Aklouk, the Palestinian envoy to the Arab League. “But Palestine was unable to impose that, so the draft resolution collapsed. We have dignity, martyrs, prisoners, and refugee camps of glory, and this is enough for us.”
Their rejectionism of Israel is shared by the Congresswoman from Michigan’s 13th District, and the one from Minnesota’s 5th District. With recognition of Israel by the UAE and Bahrain, the presence of diplomats from Oman, and the permission of Saudi Arabia for Israeli planes to fly over its airspace, the BDS movement and its representatives on Capitol Hill have also been dealt a crushing blow.
“And you have heard from the president that he is already lining up more and more countries. This was unimaginable a few years ago, but with resolve, determination, a fresh look at the way peace is done, this is being achieved,” Netanyahu said. “Thank you, Mr. President.” He noted that this agreement comes from a position of strength, as he quoted a pasuk of T’hilim suggesting that the blessing of peace comes from a place of strength.
With fewer than 50 days remaining before President Trump faces Joe Biden on Election Day, the agreement signed on the South Lawn demonstrated his capability for diplomacy that secures his legacy and chapter in the book on American-Israeli relations. Regardless of what happens on November 3, Israel is now firmly established among its neighbors as a result of President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner. Critics have said that the relationship between Israel and the Gulf monarchies has long been an open secret, but as Trump tweets his thoughts to the public, he also makes a practical relationship into an official one that extends beyond the single goal of stopping Iran. The economic, cultural, and scientific cooperation can best grow when that relationship is in the open and accessible to all citizens of these respective nations.