Trump Induced Normalization Agreements with Gulf Monarchies: Is This What Peace Looks Like?

18 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The following post is based on two interviews with a Brazilian journalist, Rodrigo Craveiro, who publishes in Correio Brazilensie. The questions posed seek commentary on the normalization agreements reached between Israel and two Arab countries, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. My responses have been modified and enlarged since the interviews on 17-18 September 2020. These normalization agreements are being perceived from a variety of angles depending on the agendas of the various political actors. In the present context it seems a win for Israel and Trump, and a loss for the Palestinians and Iran, but will these assessments hold up when again Israel moves to foreclose Palestine’s future by proceeding to fulfill Netanyahu’s most solemn and oft-repeated pledge?]

 

Trump Induced Normalization Agreements with Gulf Monarchies: Is This What Peace Looks Like?

 

Interview #1

 

1– Trump signed with Israel, UAE and Bahrein a deal today and told this represents a change  in the course of history. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark a dawn of a new Middle East. We take a major stride towards a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity”, said Trump. How do you see the meaning of two Arab nations accepted to sign a deal with Israel?

 

These normalizing moves on the part of UAE and Bahrain, under pressure from the U.S., are a form of symbolic politics‘ that have weight because they are reinforced geopolitically by being so ardently promoted by the Trump presidency. By way of contrast, the 130 or so diplomatic recognitions of Palestine as a state by governments around the world have had little significance because they lack political traction to make anything concrete and substantive change.

 

Trump’s bravado is at best an exaggeration, and at worst a shortsighted and misguided prediction about the future. This agreement expresses the interests of these two Gulf regimes that want to concentrate their power to confront the Iranian challenge, and need Israel, with U.S. backing to do this, but the Arab people remain committed to the Palestinian struggle for basic rights. There are other motivations, including the acquisition of weapons, economic relations with Israel, and being seen as willing to please the U.S. Government, at least so long as Trump is in charge. It is largely symbolic as these governments were increasingly cooperating with Israel in any event, making the claim that this has brough the region closer to peace, indeed ‘a dawn’ seems fanciful. It is not a breakthrough but a symbolic victory for Israel, and a symbolic defeat for Palestine. Nothing substantial has changed, but the atmospherics of regional politics could make a difference either mobilizing a popular movement of opposition to suck a betrayal of the Palestinian struggle or leading to a cascade of normalizing initiatives by other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Whether this kind of development would lead to longer range adjustments in the region and beyond is highly conjectural at this stage, and depends on many unknowable factors.

 

 

2– Do you believe Trump is using this deal mostly for pushing votes in elections? Why?

 

Trump is motivated by his immediate interests in. the November election, but also by his dual strategy of being an autocrat at home and a self-promoting peacemaker internationally. I doubt that this signing ceremony attracted much attention, and is unlikely to swing many votes in Trump’s direction. The main election issues involve Trump’s controversial personal style as leader, the outlook for the economy, and the tensions between unrest in the cities, police racism, and middle class fears of disorder.

 

3– What would be the consequences of such deal for Middle East?

 

Much will depend on events that will unfold in coming months, including the degree to which there will be renewed Palestinian resistance, even something on the order of a Third Intifada. Also, important will be whether this normalization with Israel is a prelude to an escalated confrontation with Iran. If this occurs, it would change the intergovernmental alignments in the region, but also might induce renewed domestic turmoil culminating in a second Arab Spring. The behavior of Turkey, China, and Russia are highly relevant in shaping either a new regional balance in the Middle East or sparking a new conflict configuration. Also, continuing U.S, military disengagement would alter the overall situation rather fundamentally, although in unpredictable ways. It should be remembered that severe problems of prolonged internal strife currently exist is Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as potentially explosive conflicts pertaining to energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. The overall regional situation is extremely complicated, and it seems likely that these largely symbolic developments in relations between Israel and Arab countries will not have important lasting consequences, partly because de facto normalization and strategic Arab/Israeli cooperation had preceded this process of formalization by several years.

 

Interview #2

 

 

******

 

1-Bahrein joined Arab United Emirates in signing deal with Israel. In what ways these deals will harm Palestinian cause?

 

These normalization arrangements are symbolically and possibly substantively harmful to the Palestinian struggle and correspondingly helpful to Israel’s long-term efforts to overcome its isolation and questionable legitimacy as a Middle Eastern state. Israel demonstrated the importance attached to normalization by its willingness to put off formal annexation moves on the West Bank in exchange for these formalized moves toward normalization. In doing so, Israel gained feelings of greater security enlarging the scope of peaceful relations with neighbors. Israel also received certain substantive benefits: air navigation overflight rights, touristic and diplomatic interaction, export gains, and enhanced reputation of diplomatic flexibility, especially appreciated by the Trump presidency. Bahrain and the UAE also added to regime security by taking these normalizing steps with Israel through obtaining greater assurances of support from Washington should internal challenges arise.

 

This diplomatic sequence was harmful to the Palestinians from a psycho-political standpoint as the Arab countries had pledged in 2002 to refrain from any  normalization moves until a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine was negotiated, a Palestinian state established, and East Jerusalem was declared as the its capital, enabling Islamic access to al-Aqsa, the third holiest Muslim sacred site. The Arab shift can be understood from three perspectives: to please Trump, to solidify security cooperation with Israel against Iran, and to obtain access to American advanced drones and fighter jet aircraft, and whatever weaponry and training it sought to control internal opposition. Of course, the Arab denial of such motivations, rests on the Israeli suspension of annexation moves toward extending its sovereignty to the West Bank, but this is a temporary concession and draws attention away from the widespread perception, not least by the Palestinians, that de facto annexation had been continually encroaching on Palestinian territorial expectations ever since the occupation began after the 1967 War. An open question is whether a renewed push by Israel for de jure annexation of 30+% of the West Bank will lead to any de-normalizing moves by Arab countries, or strong expressions of opposition in the West, including the United States. The failure of adverse consequences after the U.S. defied the UN consensus by announcing the movement of its embassy to Jerusalem at the end of 2017 suggests that there will be some strong rhetoric but little behavioral pushback, especially if a ‘decent interval’ has transpired and Arab priorities remain as at present.

 

2–Do you see an effort of Arab nations trying to punish Iran even they have to act as treason (betrayal) Palestinian fight? Why?

 

I do not see this diplomatic maneuver in that way, but rather as a way to clear the path to more robust regional cooperation with Israel in confronting Iran, and gaining more leverage in Washington for the pursuit of an anti-Iranian policy. I think it may be more reasonably interpreted as a further indication that Arab priorities and threat perceptions have shifted. This means that Israel no longer needs to be treated as adversary and enemy as a show of Arab solidarity in the face of a European incursion in the form of a Jewish state.  Instead Iran is feared as a regional rival, and has become the primary threat to Arab political arrangements, especially dynastic governance. In this regard, Palestinians are feared, as well, potentially inducing democratizing challenges to these oppressive monarchies that are sustained by sustained by weaponry and support from the West, especially the U.S.. It is important to appreciate that despite decades of rhetorical solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, Arab elites were ambivalent, believing that a Palestinian victory would have negative repercussions for their own stability.

 

 

3–What would be consequences of such deals between Bahrein and UAE with Israel for Middle East geopolitics and for perspective of peace process in future?

 

At present, the US/Israeli governments do not favor a diplomatic solution to the Israel/Palestine confrontation. Israel is not interested in seeking a genuine political compromise involving territory and refugees, and is under no U.S. pressure to pretend otherwise. Israel’s territorial objectives continue to be expansionist, encompassing ‘the promised land,’ which presupposes an eventual de jure annexation of large parts of the West Bank, retention of an undivided Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and the denial to Palestinian refugees and exiles of any right of return to pre-1967 Israel. If this is an accurate depiction of the underlying situation, there is nothing for the Palestinians to achieve, beyond some easing of material conditions (‘an economic peace’) by accepting the sort of one-sided ‘deals’ put on the table months ago by the Kushner/Trump. Although the Palestinians have been deliberately squeezed economically, especially in Gaza, the gains in Palestinian living standards that  might follow from accepting what is being offered come with an the unacceptably price tag–the surrender of basic rights. It seems highly unlikely after a century of struggle, bloodshed, and displacement that the Palestinian would renounce their quest for basic rights, including the right of self-determination.

 

 

4–Trump is stimulating such deals to isolate Iran but also to gain votes among Israel lobby in US. How do you see such strategy?

 

I do not see any major gains for this latest Trump effort in the Middle East. Objectively, considered, the main American diplomatic gain from these normalization moves seem clearly intended to distract attention from the failure of the much heralded ‘deal of the century,’ which was released under with the more sober title of ‘From Peace to Prosperity.’ It received scant support in the Arab world or among allies in Western Europe. It was widely regarded as so one-sided in Israel’s favor as to be more in the nature of a diktat than a genuine attempt to find common ground between the parties on which to work toward a diplomatic settlement.  I see little evidence that Trump will any significant additional support from the Israeli lobby or Jewish voters. It gives Trump cheerleaders something to boast about, including managing to

achieve the explicit acceptance of a Jewish state as a permanent and legitimate presence in the Middle East without having to obtain the agreement of properly constituted representatives of the Palestinian people. Iran was already isolated in the region, although with respect to Palestine it retains an approach that is supported by Turkey, and increases the plausibility of its claim to be leading the struggle against the remnants of European colonialism in the region. Such a claim resonates with public opinion throughout the entire Arab world, and is not so evident because harshly suppressed by the ruling elites.

 

More concretely, Trump’s foreign policy always welcomes arrangements that include new opportunities to increase the exports of arms merchants, and these agreements, especially with the UAE, include a commitment to provide expensive weapons, while ensuring Israel that its qualitative edge in military capabilities will be retained, thereby creating the possible basis for a regional arms race in the years ahead.

 

Finally, just as Trump seems to gain votes by helping Israel, the Arab monarchies would gain by Trump’s reelection. One ulterior motive for normalization at this time, that is just prior to the November election, is to bolster Trump’s tenuous claim to be a peacemaker in the Middle East.

 

 

6 Responses to “Trump Induced Normalization Agreements with Gulf Monarchies: Is This What Peace Looks Like?”

  1. Rabbi Ira Youdovin September 18, 2020 at 10:38 am #

    Richard,

    You write that the UAE normalized relations with Israel under American pressure. That’s simply inaccurate. The Emiratis extended recognition because it serves their own national interests. After several years of evolving commercial, military and social ties between Emiratis and Israelis, they were eager to move forward by formalizing normalization. Bahrain followed, as will others. You acknowledge this in subsequent paragraphs but miss the central point of what it means re: the Palestinians

    For many years, the Palestinians have had the luxury of rejecting Israeli peace offers knowing that the Arab states had their back and the Europeans were sympathetic. In fact, their Arab siblings never gave them more than lip service and a few dollars. But the threat of rousing the so-called Arab Street was sufficient to deter anyone other than Israel from seriously challenging Palestinian stubbornness. Despite their projected image of themselves as powerless victims, the Palestinians held enormous power over Israel’s entry into middle eastern society.
    Egypt and Jordan were the first to break that discipline. But their offer was a formalistic “cold peace” made to eliminate the prospect of war and the cost of preparing for one, while deliberately avoiding the social and commercial arrangements that typically are central to a peace agreement. The UAE and Bahrain agreements are different. The new ties provide for an opening of borders and collaborations in all fields, from business to culture to journalism. The documents constitute an unequivocal statement that their Arab signatories are no longer willing to subordinate their nations’ interests in order to coddle the Palestinians’ refusal to end a conflict they could and should have ended long ago. And other states will follow, probably sooner rather than later.
    This is the essential message to the Palestinians is that Israel’s road to full membership in the Middle East no longer goes through Palestine. Pretending that it does is the road to oblivion.

    With all due respect, I suggest that this is a good time for you to reconsider two core positions that shape your attitude to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They’re designed for a Middle East that no longer exists.

    1. You have urged the Palestinians to shun engagement with Israel and the United States at this time, and wait until the environment for negotiations is more favorable to winning their points. Delay is often a good tactic. But not at this time. In 2008, when the Palestinians rejected a proposal extended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that would have given them 95 percent of the occupied territories, a sharing arrangement for Jerusalem and a Palestinian capital in that city, and a willingness to discuss the refugee issue, Olmert warned them that they would never again see an offer that was nearly so generous. He was right. But that’s always been the case with the Palestinians. Had they accepted the UN’s partition resolution in 1947, they would now have enjoyed statehood for more than seventy years. Ditto for Israel’s offer to surrender almost all the territory taken during the 1967 war—an offer made only weeks after the guns fell silent. Whatever is on the table at this moment likely is more than what will be there next time. Whether Trump or Biden is president will make little difference.

    2. Urging Fatah and Hamas to reconcile their differences is good advice, but not if their consensus position is a non-starter. Palestinian resistance to compromise is rooted in a core commitment to eliminate Israel, either through violence or demographics. You encourage that both by supporting Hamas, which has never renounced its intention to destroy Israel, and by repeatedly denigrating Israel as an alien presence in the Middle East put there by colonialism. What you celebrate as heroic resilience, a growing number of others, including their sibling Arab states, regard it as an ill-advised stubbornness that has caused them to squander multiple opportunities for negotiating a just and equitable peace . The recent actions of UAE and Bahrain, together with the broadly-based approval it received, clearly indicates an increasing weariness with the Palestinians. The clock is ticking down on the world’s patience with their refusal to “move on”.

    I trust that you and Hilal are successfully weathering the pandemic wherever you are.

    Ira

    • Richard Falk September 18, 2020 at 10:20 pm #

      Ira:

      I appreciate your reasoning, but do not share your interpretations.

      –you ignore the timing of the normalization agreements after a decade of informal
      cooperation: so close to the U.S. elections, a distraction from the rejection of ‘the
      deal of the century’; Kushner’s recent diplomatic offensive in the region;
      –you ignore the extreme Trump partisanship, Netanyahu legacy goals; negotiating from
      such weakness with aa partisan intermediary with no reluctance to use its geopolitical
      leverage; for the Palestinians to give such ‘diplomacy’ credibility would be tantamount
      to political surrender;
      –you overlook the degree to which the Palestinian struggle is as much about people as it is about territory; there will never be a sustainable peace until Palestinian refugees/exiles have a right of return equivalent to that accorded Jews worldwide.

      We are still in Turkey, inhibited to return to SB by the long trip. Hopefully, you are
      staying safe and as satisfied as stressful circumstances permit.

      Richard

  2. Beau Oolayforos September 18, 2020 at 7:19 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    The machinations, the chicanery, and the abysmal diplomatic ignorance of the Trump White House is an ominous match with expansionist, Zionist Israel. And the crowning absurdity? Did Trump actually get nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize? Hopefully we survive this nonsense – a lot of people probably won’t.

  3. Kata Fisher September 23, 2020 at 1:04 am #

    Dear Professor Falk, Politics are notorious. Times are unstoppable – and end of the human species will come just as the end of living algae’s. Both of natural and spiritual sins are a living deal. Hypocrisy of scientific community is almost to be likened to mid-age or medieval purgatory school of thought. So it is nothing other then what natural revelation has shown: Take care of algae’s and humanity will do well – don’t do it and natural revelation will give entire human existence over to a living hell. Real solutions are in causes of the effects. To me the entire world conditionIng is is just absolutely hilarious – and I am totally against wicked jokes. Feed the algae’s and save the creation. Put the good source of the energy where it to be. General public is in grave dark – and general scientists are plain morons. Not even God Himself is any longer willing to make them do away what “whatever…” Then, in the other hand Should I hope that unlikely hope for anything good good can start happening in Holy Land. Scandal, scandal! Eventually, I hope all Nay-ers will have to drop all their wicked jokes. K.F.

    • Richard Falk September 23, 2020 at 1:38 am #

      Dear Kata:

      I am not sure I follow your reasoning beyond agreeing that
      nature and humanity are tied together in a manner that is
      interdependent if the human species is to survive. Will religion
      provide the inspiration for such a reconciliation?

      With greetings,

      Richard

      • Kata Fisher September 25, 2020 at 1:35 am #

        Dear Professor Falk, religion is like a rooted tooth in the child’s mouth. It’s abomination and horrible thing. If people of faith can’t agree – the sects and cults will have to. So, I really do not know how religion can do any good to the next door child – or the next door human. I have been spiritually deaf since I have not open my Bible for a really long time. I do not go to Church. I do not go to Chapel. I do not pray. – I am just actively avoiding hearing from both the Church and God since I really do not need all that spiritual energy for things that I am a doing right now. When God is silent everything is perfectly fine for me. Is time for me, and me alone in ignorance time.. Still, I think that grown ups are responsible for themself, and everyone is responsible for everyone’s child. Then again, some children will curse their ancestors – while some children are accursed for that what their ancestors have done. I do know for sure that only pedofile’s and their back-keepers have shown us grave mercilessness toward both the mother and the child. We should look around ourself as adults with honest eyes about the truth. We know very well why all dead deals were and are dead. K. F.

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