Opinion | Trump’s Latest Middle East Diplomatic Deal: Triumph or Travesty?

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The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the third and fourth Arab nations to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel on Tuesday, a development President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said would herald a new dawn of Middle East peace. In a White House ceremony, the three countries pledged to open embassies and establish other new diplomatic and economic ties, in exchange for which Mr. Netanyahu promised to freeze his plans to annex portions of the West Bank.

Will the deal actually make the Middle East more peaceful, and what does it mean for Palestinians, whose leadership has condemned it as a betrayal? Here’s what people are saying.

‘Trump’s Middle East Plan Could Boost the Region’

For years, it has been widely known, if not publicly acknowledged, that Israel and the U.A.E. cooperate extensively in security, energy and trade affairs. Many foreign policy analysts maintain that what finally pushed the countries to bring their relationship out into the open was a shared fear of aggression from Iran, which commands a network of military proxies in multiple countries. As Madeleine Albright, a former secretary of state, and Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser, argue in Politico: “The U.A.E.’s historic decision reflects its heightened alarm at Iran’s disruptive activity throughout the region. A growing alignment between Israel and the Gulf States could do much to deter future Iranian adventurism and possibly lead to an eventual reduction in tensions.”

But the Times columnist Thomas Friedman doesn’t see military interests as the only reason for the deal. He argues that many moderate Sunni Arab states have recognized the urgent need, born of the collapse of oil prices and the surge in their youth populations, to diversify their economies and trade relationships.

“I can’t predict how it will all play out, but when the most technologically advanced and globalized Arab state, the U.A.E., decides to collaborate with the most technologically advanced and globalized non-Arab state in the region, Israel, I suspect new energies will get unlocked and new partnerships forged that should be good for both Arab-Israeli and Jewish-Muslim human-to-human relations,” he writes. “In my view, anything that makes the Middle East more like the European Union and less like the Syrian civil war is a good thing.”

And in the view of the Times columnist Bret Stephens, it may even be a good thing for Palestinians. Palestinian leaders have rebuked Bahrain and the U.A.E. for forfeiting what they view as a key source of leverage against Israel in the push to end its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. But Mr. Stephens argues that decades of failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have revealed the futility of that strategy. Reversing its order by normalizing Arab-Israeli ties first, he says, could be what finally creates the conditions for Palestinian statehood.

That view is shared by Ghaith Al-Omari, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team. If Egypt and Jordan are any indication, he argues, Arab countries that normalize relations with Israel are more effective partners to Palestinians, not only because they can hold direct talks with Israel, but also because they enjoy more credibility in the international community than countries seen as hostile to a Jewish state.

“In a region that is accustomed to things only getting worse, this is a rare piece of good news,” he writes. “The international community needs to capitalize on its momentum, and Arab and international friends of the Palestinians need to urge them to use this opening to explore ways of resuming Palestinian-Israeli talks within a wider regional context.”

‘Trump “peace” deals for Israel, U.A.E. and Bahrain are shams. They boost oppression, not amity.’

Dissenting from the mainstream American foreign policy consensus, Trita Parsi, the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, argues that the deal had very little to do with the danger posed by Iran, which he contends the United States and Israel have exaggerated for decades to serve politically unpopular ends.

“What binds Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. together is not so much the threat from Iran but the threat of the United States military leaving the Middle East,” he writes. “These three states have been the foremost benefactors of America’s military domination in the region, gifting them a beneficial power balance that they could not have achieved on their own.” That impression is reinforced by reports that the Trump administration quietly rewarded the U.A.E. with an arms sale for its cooperation with Israel, the type of exchange that Mr. Parsi says some Gulf States view as informal defense pacts that compel U.S. military protection. Jason Pack predicts in Foreign Policy that quite the opposite of being a peace deal, it will only embolden the U.A.E. to escalate its proxy conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Viewing the deal in this light, Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney and an assistant professor at Rutgers University, argues that “this is not a peace agreement but rather an accord to join forces to suppress struggles for freedom.” She notes that Bahrain, which also stands to benefit militarily from improved relations with the United States and Israel, is a minoritarian monarchy with a brutal record of domestic repression and complicity in the Saudi- and U.A.E.-led bombing of Yemen, which has pushed 10 million Yemenis to the brink of famine. “The Bahraini people, still in a struggle for their own freedom, understand the deleterious impact of the U.S.-brokered deal on their lives,” she writes.

[Related: “The War Pact Among Jim Crow States of the Middle East”]

In The Times, Diana Buttu, a former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organization, argues that the same can be said for Palestinians. The decision to forgo any preconditions for a Palestinian state was “a slap in the face,” she writes, and the one ostensible concession that was extracted from Israel — a promise not to illegally annex the West Bank — was revealed by Mr. Netanyahu to be only temporary. And all the while, Israel has started planning the construction of a road that will allow for the creation of new settlements near the Palestinian city of Ramallah and pass through areas that Mr. Trump’s peace plan had designated for a future Palestinian state.

“For Palestinians, this deal is not, as some have suggested, a reassuring step forward,” Ms. Buttu says. “Rather, it’s an indication of how the major parties in earlier peace attempts — the U.S., Israel and Arab countries — are willing to move ahead with plans that disregard Palestinian rights.” Going forward, both she and Mr. Friedman argue that Palestinians will have no choice but to abandon the idea of a two-state solution and to push instead for equal rights within Israel.

‘It’s not meaningless, but neither is it a transformative, landmark event.’

Is it possible that this deal actually isn’t very significant? Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard, thinks so. The formalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and the U.A.E. is largely symbolic, he says, and won’t have much of a material effect on the relationship. And while Arab governments have historically championed the Palestinian cause in name, most of them long ago abandoned it in deed.

“Bottom line: The road to one state just got a fresh coat of asphalt, and a ‘South Africa-like struggle for equal voting rights’ (to use Ehud Olmert’s phrase) looms on the horizon,” he wrote on Twitter. “But that was already true two weeks ago. The deal isn’t irrelevant, but it doesn’t change that much.”

Do you have a point of view we missed? Email us at [email protected]. Please note your name, age and location in your response, which may be included in the next newsletter.

MORE ON THE DEAL

“Trump’s Middle East Deal Is Good. But Not That Good.” [The New York Times]

“We are witnessing a very, very successful colonization” [Hold Your Fire!]

“Peace with the UAE is fabulous. But Israel’s existential problem is at home.” [The Forward]

“The Collapsing Arab Consensus and Options for the Palestinian Leadership” [Arab Center Washington DC]

“A Decent Person Would Oppose the Israel-UAE Deal” [Haaretz]

WHAT YOU’RE SAYING

Here’s what readers had to say about the last edition: The Wildfires Show That Stopping Climate Change Is No Longer Enough”

Denis Pombriant, author of “The Age of Sustainability”: “As long as we discuss climate change as a problem whose solution involves reducing emissions, we are in trouble. There’s already too much carbon in the atmosphere and oceans, and reducing emissions only slows the rate of addition. It’s like overfilling a glass of water. If you slow down the pouring, the table still gets wet.”

Tom: “We live in Florida and every year we smell the prescribed burns and my hiking group gets to see the results in person. Florida has been doing prescribed burns for decades and has been very successful. Granted it is easier to do prescribed burns in a flat state than a hilly state such as California, but it is almost criminal how incompetent the California authorities have been in their ruthless suppression of forest fires, thereby exasperating the problem.”

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