GP Insights

GP Insights # 414, 19 September 2020

The Middle East: After UAE, Bahrain agrees to normalize relations with Israel, as the three sign the
Lakshmi V Menon

What happened?
On 15 September, the state of Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain signed a US-brokered normalization agreement. At the event, hosted by US President Donald Trump in the White House, the three - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan signed what is referred as "the Abraham Accords".

The New York Times quoted Trump saying, "after decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East." According to the NYT report: "The texts of the agreements detail how the three countries will open embassies and establish other new diplomatic and economic ties, including tourism, technology and energy. Israel and the Emirates are beginning commercial air travel between their countries for the first time, and Bahrain has opened its airspace for those flights."

Meanwhile, Palestinians condemned the signing of accords as 'a sad day'.

What is the background?
First, the changing perception about Israel in the Arab World. On 14 August, Israel and the United Arab Emirates established formal diplomatic relations through a US-brokered arrangement; becoming the third Arab nation and the first GCC country to establish ties with Israel. The UAE-Israel normalization set a precedent, as Bahrain followed. A section believes Saudi Arabia, though silent, tacitly approves the Abraham Accords. Other Arab countries are expected to follow, for example, Oman. 
Second, Israel's normalization interests. It is not only the Arab states but also Israel, especially Netanyahu looking forward to establishing ties with the Arab World. While some blame it on Netanyahu's adventurism, it also reveals a plausible larger Israeli understanding that resolution of issues and establishment of ties with the Arab states is crucial to the addressing of the Palestinian issue. 
Third, the American push. The Abraham accords constitute a major part of the Trump-Jared strategy towards the Middle East. Trump has been pushing for what he calls it as the "deal of the century". For Trump, a deal in the Middle East is also a personal push.

What does this mean?
For the Americans, it means a significant foreign policy success. Ahead of the upcoming elections, the Abraham Accords promises political mileage for Donald Trump. The latter perhaps even thinks he deserves a Nobel peace prize!. It also sends a global diplomatic message that the US' power in the region of the Middle East should not be doubted. 
For the Palestinians, it is 'a sad day' indeed. The accords end the collective regional arrangement for peace – the exchange of normalization with Arab states for Palestinian statehood. The deal is a distinct departure from the traditional understanding of Arab-Israeli peace. For Israel, it means strengthening and solidifying its position in the Middle East and establishing itself as an unquestionable regional power. 
For Netanyahu, it means garnering domestic political mileage to recapture complete control over Israel's Prime Minister-ship. 


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