MIDDLE EAST FORUM - Aug 14, 2020 - by Daniel Pipes
Originally published under the title "An Optimistic Future for Israel and the United Arab Emirates."
I was skeptical about Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, 1983 agreement with Lebanon, 1993 Oslo accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and 1994 peace treaty with Jordan. But the joint statement by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States on Aug. 13 breaks new ground and, as it itself claims, deserves to be called "historic."
The statement boils down to Israel's commitment to "suspend declaring sovereignty over [parts of the West Bank] and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world." In return, the UAE "agreed to the full normalization of relations" with Israel. This exchange of promises in three ways improves on previous Israeli agreements with Arabs.
First, the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Jordanian agreements basically ignored the Palestinians, but UAE leaders can point to wringing a commitment from Jerusalem to suspend its West Bank annexation plans. (Perhaps that was what Benjamin Netanyahu all along had in mind; my colleague Matt Mainen presciently outlined two months ago the Israeli prime minister's "brilliant bluff" of sacrificing annexation for diplomatic recognition by Gulf Arabs.)
Second, the statement meets with less opposition than did prior agreements. Sure, it has opponents: the predictable Palestinian howls of treason and some Israelis reluctant to forego what they consider a unique opportunity on the West Bank. More importantly, substantial numbers of Muslims beyond these two immediate parties remain opposed to recognizing Israel, whether for reasons of Palestinian nationalism, Arab nationalism, or Islamism. When Tunisian voters in a valid 2019 election specifically chose the most anti-Zionist candidate to serve as the country's president, they reminded the world that rejection of Israel remains a potent regional force.
But several regional states (Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman) have endorsed the joint statement. Further, vox populi counts for little in Arab Gulf states like the UAE, where populations tend to defer to their leaders. As one Emirati told me, just as patients defer to their physicians' judgment, so subjects in the Gulf accede to their rulers' decisions. In another analogy, leaders are said to resemble wise fathers; they know more, have greater experience, and see further. Also, a comfortable Emirati populace will not readily jeopardize its stability. Thus Emiratis will likely accept recognition of the Jewish state in a way that, for example, Lebanese did not. If prior rulers who signed agreements with Israel failed to bring about a wider change of heart, this matters less in the UAE.