August 13, 2020 will go down as one of the most significant days in world history, especially in the long history of the Middle East. This past Thursday, the world woke up to a joint announcement from the United States, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, declaring Israel and the UAE would establish formal diplomatic ties.
Although Israel had previously signed diplomatic agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, the agreement with the UAE marks a substantial achievement for the mission of peace and stability in the Middle East. The diplomatic agreement, called the Abraham Accord, means Israel and the UAE can exchange ambassadors and establish embassies in each other’s nations. Furthermore, the accord allows direct trans-national flights and opens new opportunities for bilateral cooperation, particularly in health care and trade.
Despite the historic nature of this agreement, the Abraham Accord hasn’t received the kind of coverage it deserves. While there are numerous explanations for this — none of them satisfactory or justified — the lack of attention is most likely due to the reluctance of the corporate media to give President Trump, his senior adviser and son-in-law Jarred Kushner, and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu any credit for advancing peace in the Middle East.
Signposts for Peace
In recent years, concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapon program and its state-sponsored terrorism in the region have brought Israel and select Gulf nations closer. Compared to its other Arab neighbors, however, the UAE has made the most concrete efforts toward normalizing relations with Israel.
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Early signs of increasingly warm relations between Israel and the UAE were seen in 2019, when the UAE launched its “Year of Tolerance.” As part of the initiative, the UAE invited Pope Francis to speak, hosted interfaith meetings with religious leaders worldwide, announced the construction of an interfaith center in Abu Dhabi — to house a Jewish synagogue, a Christian church, and an Islamic mosque — and invited Israel to attend the 2020 World EXPO in Dubai.
Inspired by these efforts, a Jewish resident in the UAE opened the first kosher eatery in the Gulf region. This year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, two cargo flights from the UAE equipped with medical aid landed in Israel.
Then, on June 12, Youssef Al Otaiba, UAE’s ambassador to the United States, made history by publishing an op-ed in Hebrew in Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot Daily. In the article, Youssef warned against Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu’s annexation plan of the West Bank, and offered a possibility for improving relations between the two nations, stating: “With the region’s two most capable militaries, common concerns about terrorism and aggression, and a deep and long relationship with the United States, the UAE, and Israel could form closer and more effective security cooperation.”
With the Trump administration’s involvement, Netanyahu halted the annexation of the West Bank, a compromise that sealed his nation’s historic agreement with the UAE this month. Across the political left, center, and right, the agreement left many Israelis stunned. As the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history and the head of the conservative Likud Party, Netanyahu is known for his tough and uncompromising rhetoric of defending Israel’s sovereignty and has never hesitated to deploy Israel’s military to stop terror attacks and rocket launches by the state-sponsored terrorist group Hamas.
Vindication for Netanyahu
Last year, Netanyahu was embroiled in a corruption investigation and charged with “bribery, fraud, and breach of trust” in three separate cases. Then, quite remarkably and to the dismay of his opponents, Netanyahu survived three inconclusive general elections in less than a year. Even though Netanyahu failed to win a majority in the most recent election, he and his main political rival, Benny Gantz, decided to work together to steer Israel out of the pandemic and the resulting economic recession.
Until this June, Netanyahu was still seeking the full annexation of the West Bank, a call that was criticized by Arab nations and the European Union, and made him deeply unpopular among Israel’s center and left factions. The fact that such a hardliner who has been dogged by scandals and criminal charges managed to deliver a historic peace accord with an Arab nation is truly remarkable.
Vivian Bercovici, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2014 to 2016 and is an outspoken critic of Netanyahu, compared the accord to a “good atomic bomb,” calling Netanyahu a “magician” who “pulled off the impossible” while being “sliced and diced six ways to Sunday by local scandal and subterfuge.” Furthermore, Bercovici wrote, “With Bibi (a nickname for Netanyahu), there simply is no Act V–no denouement. We are stuck in Act III, where the hero is unstoppable. Where his brilliance and unsurpassed triumphs continue, mere human frailties notwithstanding.”
While the Israeli media are gracious enough to give Netanyahu at least some credit where credit is due, the corporate media in the United States have refused to give President Trump and his team any credit for this historic achievement and like to criticize Trump’s foreign policies as chaotic, inconsistent, and isolationist. It especially bothers them that Trump relies on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a key foreign policy adviser even though Kushner is a newcomer to negotiating diplomatic relations between foreign nations.
The Corporate Media’s Conspicuous Silence
When the Trump administration rolled out its Israeli-Palestine peace deal in April, mainstream media dismissed it as “Kushner’s deal.” They claimed the deal was a nonstarter because of its nontraditional approach, such as establishing “Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘undivided’ capital, with a potential Palestinian capital to the east and north of the city.”
When Palestinian representatives rejected the deal outright, corporate media and its pundits cheered as if to say “I told you so.” The general feeling has been that achieving peace in the Middle East is beyond the abilities of both Trump and Kushner since so many more experienced diplomats and politicians have failed to achieve any success in the past. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was running for president then, said she would depose the plan once she became the president of the United States.
The critics of the president’s plan failed to mention that several Arab nations, including the UAE, Egypt, Oman, and Qatar, all endorsed Trump’s plan, which laid the foundation for the UAE and Israel’s peace accord several months later. The same critics also ignored that previous U.S. administrations had devoted tremendous resources in an attempt to bring peace in the Middle East, repeating the same conventional approaches and getting the same failure in return. It is obvious that the media simply can’t bring themselves to admit the Trump’s unconventional approach is working.
Comparing the Israel-UAE accord to a “geopolitical earthquake,” pundits like The New York Times’s Thomas L. Friedman have painstakingly avoided giving Trump, Kusher, or Netanyahu any credit for what Friedman recently called a “HUGE breakthrough.” One can almost feel Friedman’s agony — how he wished this breakthrough was accomplished by anyone other than the trio he seems to loathe so deeply.
Most democrats in the U.S. Congress remained silent about the accord. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) called the deal a “sham.” Rather than giving this historic deal wall-to-wall coverage, the corporate media spent the weekend blaming Trump for a new conspiracy regarding the U.S. Postal Service, claiming Trump would shut down the USPS to steal the 2020 election.
Implementing New Strategy in the Middle East
Contrary to assertions that the Trump administration has no coherent strategic plan in the Middle East, Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote that he believes the Trump administration has a clear and ambitious plan for the region, comprised of three distinct yet closely connected components.
First, there is a noticeable focus on Iran. The administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and has been applying maximum political and economic pressure to get Iran back to the negotiation table. Berman believes the approach has been “broadly successful, dramatically reversing the Iranian regime’s economic fortunes and generating renewed internal dissent against clerical rule.”
The second piece of the strategy is the Middle East Strategic Alliance, or what some would call an “Arab NATO,” a group consisting of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, and the UAE. Since 2017, the alliance has worked closely with the Trump administration,with the goals of “confronting extremism, terrorism, and achieving peace, stability, and development” in the region.
The third piece is the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Even Friedman now urges the Palestinians to come back to the negotiation table in light of the Israel-UAE deal, because they will “find a lot of support from Trump, the Europeans and the Arabs for that position.”
All three pieces build on one another’s success. As Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Iran, said: “Peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is Iran’s worst nightmare.” Many in the administration, including the president, are hopeful that the Israel-UAE agreement will inspire other Arab nations to follow suit.
Thankfully, further positive developments on that front may already be underway. For example, Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018. In July 2019, the United States hosted a meeting in Washington between the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Israel.
If Trump is reelected this November, the world may indeed witness a few more peace agreements out of the Middle East. With this unconventional president, his fresh approach, and his tendency not to rely on career officials, anything is possible.