The signing of the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and the memorandum of understandings with Bahrain was an exciting event. The White House clearly put great effort into producing an impressive show with great precision.
It was not possible to see the agreements themselves, however, until about two hours after the signing, and it is not clear why. From a late night review of the documents that Israel signed it does not look as though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had much to hide. They contain general statements about aspirations to some kind of future peace. There is no concession, and even the undertaking not to proceed with annexation of areas of the West Bank, mentioned in the speech of UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is not recorded in black and white.
The document signed by Israel and Bahrain too contains a general paragraph about "widening the circle of peace" and "recognizing each State’s right to sovereignty and to live in peace and security, and continuing the efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The new Israel-UAE-Bahrain partnership does not have the Palestinian issue at its core, and if any third party to yesterday's vigorous peace-making activity comes to mind, it is Iran. And that should also be the focus of the Israelis.
Twice yesterday, US President Donald Trump stated his intention of entering into speedy negotiations with Iran immediately after the US presidential election. He talked about this at his own initiative, in a long morning interview with Fox News, and he raised it unprompted again when Netanyahu was sitting at his side in the White House Oval Office.
Netanyahu stayed mum at this outbreak of thoughts of some kind of deal with Iran. Talking about that unruly and hated country, Trump added that Sleepy Joe, as he calls his Democratic rival for the presidency Joe Biden, would continue the Democrats feeble policy on Iran (signing an agreement and handing over money according to Trump), while he, Trump the strong, would close a deal a deal between the two countries within a month of being reelected.
If Netanyahu was supposed to bear a worried and uncomfortable expression at this point, it didn’t happen. Netanyahu also did not respond to Trump with a moralizing sermon, as he once did to President Barack Obama in an incident in front of the cameras that widened the gap and deepened the quarrel between the two men. When Netanyahu's turn came to speak alongside the loquacious Trump, he said that Israel was not isolated in the world. The opposite is the case: there is another country that should feel isolated in the face of the new moderate Sunni axis, he declared.
Trump turned the event into a political one, something that ought to have been a concern for Netanyahu. He used an important international stage to sling mud at his political rival. Perhaps Netanyahu expected as much, and perhaps he even accepted it with a shrug of the shoulders and with understanding. When Netanyahu needed Trump as a senior election campaigner (declaring US recognition of Israel's position on the Golan Heights, a tweet about a security alliance 48 hours before polling stations in Israel opened), Trump performed the role eagerly. Why shouldn't Netanyahu return the favor and be a partner in Trump's campaign? In Netanyahu's world, everything passes. If Biden is angry, and if he manages to get elected, Netanyahu will take care to smooth things over at some time in the future.
At any rate, it could be that a future Democratic administration headed by Biden will start to talk about holding negotiations with Iran, but along comes Trump and explains that he will do just that.
In one of the most significant moments on the beautiful sunny morning on the festive White House lawn, the speech in Arabic by the UAE foreign minister was severely disturbed by a salvo of rockets on southern Israel. That caused great frustration. Five people were injured in Ashdod, one of them with moderately serious wounds. So, while in Washington they were celebrating relations between Israel and the Sunni states coming out of the closet, Hamas and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip shrieked "don't forget us, we're here as well." The speechmakers couldn't hear and didn't know, and they remained with their sentiments of peace and Hollywood music in the background.
The Palestinian issue, however, will not go away. They are Israel's next-door neighbors. Netanyahu's achievement yesterday was magnificent, and the fulfilment of a dream of all Israeli leaders. So the smile will not leave his face for a long time. The Abraham Accords are an exciting prelude to future developments and are full of optimism and references to prosperity, growth, and inter-faith ties. But real peace is made with enemies, not with secret friends. Perhaps the Gulf states will teach us a little lesson on "widening the circle of peace."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 16, 2020
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