An arduous start

Friday, 2020-09-18 16:53:47
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Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed display their copies of signed agreements while US President Donald Trump looks on as they participate in the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbours, in Washington, US, September 15, 2020. (Reuters)
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NDO – US President Donald Trump has hailed the signing of the agreements to normalise relations between Israel and two Arab nations, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, as “the dawn of a new Middle East” and a “historic moment” that paves the way for forthcoming steps towards the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and Arab countries.

Despite being considered an external achievement of President Trump in his role of mediation, the agreements are facing strong protests from Palestine and some countries in the region, which has put the Washington administration’s plans for the Middle East in jeopardy with multiple challenges.

Hosting the signing between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain, the US President praised the normalisation move between Israel and the two Arab states in the Gulf. This is the result of a negotiation process mediated by President Trump. He also revealed that there are about five or six more Arab countries ready to normalise relations with Israel.

With these deals, new opportunities for economic and trade cooperation between the two sides will be strongly boosted when direct flights are relaunched. For Israel, the agreement with the two Arab nations will help the Jewish state escape from regional isolation. Meanwhile, promoting relations with Israel, the US’s strategic ally in the Middle East, will help the UAE and Bahrain to further strengthen their ties with the Washington administration which has pledged to ensure a “security umbrella” for allies against the “threat” from Iran.

However, the two Arab states’ choice to fully open ties with Israel means that they have overlooked the core issue of the relationship between Israel and the Arab bloc, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state solution. The UAE insists that Israel’s delay in its plan to annex parts of the West Bank will not further harm the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this failed to convince Palestine. The Palestinian leaders considered the UAE and Bahrain’s decision to normalise relations with Israel “a betrayal” of the Palestinian cause to put an end to Israel’s occupation, adding that it disrupted decades of consensus in the Arab bloc that a peace deal for Palestine was a prerequisite for the normalisation of relations with the Jewish state. Palestine’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that the event marked “a dark day” for the Arab bloc. Meanwhile, Iran, which had severed diplomatic relations with Bahrain and downgraded relations with the UAE, also voiced its protest to the agreements and warned about unpredictable consequences as a result.

Israel, Bahrain, the UAE, and the US have all affirmed that the opening of direct dialogue and relations between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue to accelerate the Middle East’s positive transformation process, as well as enhancing stability, security and prosperity in the region. Israel sees this as the biggest breakthrough in its relations with the Arab bloc in the past 26 years. Promoting the normalisation of ties between the Arab bloc and Israel is also part of President Trump’s goal of building a new coalition in the Middle East, in the context of Washington implementing the “America First” policy and shifting its strategic priorities to the Indo-Pacific. The position of the US leader is that “the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power”. Meanwhile, the formation of regional alliances, including with US allies, could prove very important in order to help consolidate Washington’s strength and influence in the Middle East. However, the US still has to convince its key regional ally, Saudi Arabia, on the issue of normalising relations with Israel, especially as the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative proposed by ‎Riyadh continues to be supported by the Arab bloc with a view to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The agreement to normalise ties between Israel and two Arab states is considered a new step for bilateral cooperation, but it will not be easy to realise the US ambitions of improving relations between Israel and the Arab bloc. “Shaking hands for cooperation” is a trend of the international community; however, to truly bring a new “dawn” to the Middle East, there must be a comprehensive and mutually-approved solution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine.