Optimism in the Mideast


With the announcement on Aug. 13 that Israel and the United Arab Emirates were formalizing their relations, there was near universal praise for the diplomatic achievement. Credit for the historic accord was shared by U.S. President Donald Trump, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who together have changed — for the better — the rules of Middle East diplomacy that were in place for more than six decades.

While there is some question about certain details — particularly regarding the meaning of a “suspension” of Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank — those issues will hopefully be ironed out in final negotiations over the next weeks.

In the meantime, in the afterglow of the treaty announcement, there are clear winners and losers. First among the winners are Israel and the UAE. Formalization of the long-standing Israel-UAE ties, and the anticipated expansion of Israel’s diplomatic relationships with other players in the area, will make the regional coalition against Iran more credible, tangible and effective. The deal will also allow an increase in trade between the rich Gulf oil state and the nimble Israeli economy, and will provide Israel with its third Arab peace partner, following Egypt and Jordan.

The United States is also a winner, having played an active role in the agreement process. That effort reflects a welcome reemergence of the Trump administration in the region, following multiple signs of withdrawal. We hope the move signals the administration’s desire to resurrect U.S. prominence as an honest broker.

The clear loser is the long-stagnant and remarkably stubborn Palestinian leadership, which joined Iran and Turkey in condemning the agreement. Palestinians have reason to be worried, since the agreement ignores the long-touted formula that Arab state normalization with Israel would only come in tandem with progress on resolution of Palestinian issues. That clearly has not happened here.

But we don’t share the pessimism of Palestinian leadership. Instead, we see a significant opportunity for Palestinians to engage with Israel on movement toward a two-state solution, and to do so with the support and encouragement of much of the world community. To the extent such an effort requires new thinking or leadership on the Palestinian side, it is incumbent on those who are able to step forward, seize the opportunity and help navigate the process. Palestinians need to test and explore Israel’s repeated commitment to resolution, and to do so within the two-state construct that offers the most potential benefits for all parties. Such an effort would require compromise and concessions on both sides — as with any negotiation — and is achievable.

But time will not stand still. Speculation is rampant that possible diplomatic deals are in the works with Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan and even Saudi Arabia. Some or all of that might happen, and the sooner each happens, the less leverage the Palestinians will have.

We are impressed that Israel is working so effectively to resolve long-standing issues with its more distant neighbors. That process would be easier, and Israel’s own best interests will be served, if it can also reach resolution with the very people with whom it shares its land.

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