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A Mideast Deal Helping Trump?

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 15, 2020

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached an peace agreement this week. But why was it announced in the White House? And why is its biggest immediate delivery a momentary foreign policy “victory” for Donald Trump?

The way the deal came about and was announced made the whole deal — which should be seen as a positive in the region — feel like political manipulation of American voters.
Perhaps it was not totally unexpected — Israel and the UAE feel similarly antagonistic about Iran, for example, but Middle East agreements are rare.

Those most surprised at the deal’s announcement were Palestinians, who seem not even to have merited a consult in what must have been a lengthy negotiation. Israel agreed to a deal by promising not to grab most of the West Bank from Palestinians. You’d think the Palestinians would have something to say here.

Actually, it is more likely the case that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacked the votes he needed in the Knesset to proceed with the land grab, and the UAE already was waiting for an opportunity to cement business relations and travel with Israel. And, in public statements at least, Team Trump has had no problem with Israeli annexation of Palestinian property — elimination of which was the linchpin here.

It’s a real deal, but there seems more hoopla here than change of heart involved. Israel and UAE leaders have been working together for a decade, and Netanyahu could have stood down from annexation plans at any time. In my view, Netanyahu gave Trump a present in return for placing the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, favorable arms sales and a ton of other support over the last four years by coming up with a photo op deliverable in a peace deal of some sort.

In any non-coronavirus year, we could expect to see Netanyahu and the UAE’s Muhammed bin Zayed shaking hands with Trump on the White House lawn.

Yes, Jared Kushner has been carrying around a plan to buy Israel allies with economic aid for four years, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who was elsewhere as this announcement was made — has been checking up, but it hardly seemed like US-coaxed deal-making. Even if the deal-making was secret, wouldn’t you have expected Pompeo in one of those capitals at the end?

Palestinian Interests

An ever-boastful Trump took credit for changing the dynamics of a warring region, adding that he expects other nations to follow in reaching agreements with Israel,. Of course, what he did not say that by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, he personally had made things a lot more volatile in the region.

News reports suggested Palestinian leaders were caught flat-footed by the turn of events because they had not been consulted at all. Besides the issue of Israeli annexation of the West Bank, there are outstanding grievances about daily work and family arrangements in areas under Israeli control.

For their part, the perception that Netanyahu, either on his own or under pressure from European allies and the United States, had thrown out plans to annex most of the West Bank rankled Jewish settlers in those areas. They made clear that they felt sold out.

And Netanyahu made clear later that annexation is still on the table.

So, to review, if I have it right, the main players here, those actually living out the effects of the deal both felt poorly represented and are dissatisfied.

Meanwhile, Iran remains a regional threat, and the Sunni-Shia split in the Arab world is keeping conflict alive in Yemen and in Iraq, Iran is starving but still developing a nuclear proficiency, and the United States generally has lost influence outside of Israel and the UAE.

By all means, let’s celebrate Trump, the same Trump who says he can bring together implacable foes but cannot manage to talk with Democratic leaders about breaking a domestic impasse over the shape of a coronavirus stimulus package they both want to deliver?

Foreign policy 101

In successful foreign policy, the highest priority is on reliability and informed concern, The biggest influence tokens go to those who are solid in their values, who offer help of all sort and whose value systems mesh.

Trump has been reliable in full support for Israel, but not for recognition of any Palestinian concerns. His allegiance to Saudi Arabia has extended to Sunni allies, thus to the UAE.

Indeed, the Russians and now Chinese are making inroads in the region, backing players other than Israel, of course, but continuing to foment problems. Syria is a major power vacuum, allowing Russian and Turkish incursion, and the post-ISIS withdrawals have created war for Kurds who had been U.S. allies.

In other words, America has not been a reliable partner throughout the area, and its influence as peace-maker has suffered.

I can’t help thinking that this deal is a gift from Netanyahu, who has had his own political problems, to his friend Trump just before the U.S. elections.


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