Though the deal signed Tuesday between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates deserves to be heralded, American voters should not confuse this with Middle East peace. President Donald Trump worked hard to gin up the signing ceremony with blaring trumpets and crashing cymbals, but he neglected to inform the American public of one crucial detail: Israel has never been at war with its co-signatories. So there was no “peace” to be celebrated.
Rather, this is a landmark decision by two tiny Persian Gulf monarchies to recognize Israel in hopes of advancing their own self-interests and countering their mutual foe, Iran. For the United Arab Emirates, it also helped advance its goal of purchasing U.S. F-35 jets. Regional stability might be enhanced by military coordination to fend off any future Iranian aggression, but for Israel, a deal with two countries more than a thousand miles from its shores does little to address the ongoing state of neither war nor peace with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. That prickly issue barely received a mention in Tuesday’s ceremony.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had good reasons to overplay the White House event. Netanyahu is awaiting prosecution on corruption charges.
“Despite cynicism about political opportunism, campaign PR fodder and snarky comments about a peace agreement with two countries Israel was never at war with, it is still a major achievement …,” wrote Jerusalem Post Managing Editor David Brinn. “But 6,000 miles back home, there’s little cause for celebration” because of the “broken country” Netanyahu’s leadership leaves behind.
Trump is desperate for any victory he can claim before the Nov. 3 election, having badly mismanaged the pandemic response and plunged the United States into economic catastrophe. Trump’s silly showmanship served to underscore his desperation to garner positive headlines and distract voters from his multiple failings.
“Comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors in the Arab world will only be achieved through an agreement that resolves the issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and leads to the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami of the pro-Israel group J Street.
Make no mistake, any time Israel establishes diplomatic relations with an Arab state, it’s a remarkable moment. But in terms of the divisions that have divided Israelis and Arabs since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have been distant bystanders.
Even the most celebrated accords between Israel and neighbors Egypt and Jordan have yielded, at best, a cold peace — in large part because even they were unable to exert influence over the Israeli settlement policies and military occupation that are the biggest impediments to Palestinian self-determination. The chances of Bahrain and the UAE making progress where Egypt and Jordan have failed are, sadly, virtually nil.
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