Israel-Arab peace has been elusive for decades. Built on a failed model of land-for-peace with the Palestinians, nearly all Arab nations have waited on that deal being signed first before striking their own deals with the Jewish state. No more. The United Arab Emirates made history in August by reaching a peace accord with Israel, in which there was no land-for-peace swap. So what made this possible?
There are a number of factors, but one especially key reason is that United States President Donald Trump has supported Israel more than any US president has in decades, perhaps ever. But how could a pro-Israel US president really encourage Arabs to make peace? First, the “Status Quo Solution” (as opposed to the “One-State Solution”) started with a joint problem.
The UAE is among the nations troubled by the advances of Iran in the Middle East, with Tehran looking to establish an empire in the region from Yemen to Lebanon, and likely beyond. For years, there have been reports of Arab nations coordinating with Israel over security concerns, and Iran’s maleficence is their greatest joint concern. The problem is that the sides couldn’t work together openly because, technically, most Arab nations are still at war with Israel.
Enter President Trump.
His strong anti-Iran approach—exiting the flawed Iran nuclear deal, employing a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign on Iran to drive them to change behaviors—no doubt emboldened the UAE that the Americans would stand with their Arab allies against Iran. That Trump is also willing to potentially sell the UAE advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets as part of the deal was likely the clincher, if not their main motive.
But even if the UAE wanted peace with Israel to strategize against Iran, and wanted the F-35s enough to make a surprisingly good deal for Israel, that doesn’t address the elephant in the room: the Palestinian problem.
To pacify Arabs in the street—or even other Arab national leaders—who might oppose a peace deal with Israel without a deal being reached with the Palestinians, there needed to be some apparent progress in that realm. That’s a major problem considering the Palestinians have refused to even talk to the Israelis about peace for years.
Again, enter President Trump.
Starting with a massive economic peace package, the Trump Administration showed it was willing to pay for peace and helped isolate the Palestinians from the others in the Arab world when the Palestinians rejected Trump’s “Deal of the Century” approach. That made it easier to isolate the Palestinians even further with a unilateral UAE peace deal with Israel.
Yet it wouldn’t have been enough on its own. Rather, it was President Trump’s public and profound support for Israel that finally turned the tables on the Palestinian land-for-peace model. The problem was always that Israel wanted something far more valuable to them than the Palestinians—and certainly the Arabs—were getting in return. Israel wanted peace, but the Palestinian leaders apparently didn’t really want statehood.
The Palestinian leadership had repeatedly rejected the land Israel was prepared to offer, even when that was nearly 100 percent of what the Palestinians allegedly wanted for their own state. Statehood just wasn’t as valuable as a perpetual conflict that elicited funding by good-intentioned-but-confused Western nations (not to mention the extremists’ hope that Israel might someday be driven into the sea).
And furthermore, with the international community repeatedly pressuring Israel to make concessions, or at least not take further steps in settling the land that could someday be Palestinian, the Arabs were in no rush. A peace deal could always happen later, because the world would prevent Israel from jeopardizing it too much, and if not, they would later pressure Israel to concede everything the Arabs wanted anyway.
President Trump approached it differently. He quickly recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy there, something that stunned the world and no US president had done before. He recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Syria still claims, in another major pro-Israel move. And perhaps even more surprising, the backlash was minimal. The battle-weary Palestinians were not interested in waves of terror in response and the Arab leaders were tiring of the conflict as well.
So, when the US started talking about recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian plan to retake the entirety of what they call the West Bank was genuinely in jeopardy. Israeli leaders voiced support for the idea from both major parties in election rhetoric and President Trump was viewed as just being pro-Israel and anti-establishment enough to acknowledge that every Jewish community in Israel was actually part of the Nation of Israel.
Once that happened, Israel would have little pressure to make a deal with the Palestinians and all the clout in any future talks—because the Israelis had already gotten nearly everything they had planned to negotiate to obtain: Jerusalem and the Judea/Samaria settlements.
And with all that in the background, the stage was set for a unique concession. The public “victory” for the Arabs in the UAE peace deal was that the Israelis decided to take the Judea/Samaria sovereignty plan off the table for now. No land was conceded; no permanent promises were made. Just as a peace treaty can be torn up, so the Israelis can back out of their commitment. Finally, it was an equal deal: both sides gave up a hypothetical—for the UAE, it was war with Israel, while for the Israelis, it was claiming sovereignty over land—and made peace.
Giving up the sovereignty plan for now wasn’t easy for Israel—this is the Biblical heartland under consideration, where Israelis have lived for decades in something of a second-class status outside the recognized borders of Israel’s state. Still, unlike the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the Island of Peace with Jordan and potentially land for the Palestinians, this move isn’t permanent.
Yet had President Trump not first built the foundation of historically pro-Israel moves, the Judea/Samaria sovereignty threat would have been viewed as just a bluff. Instead, by backing Israel so openly and consistently, the Arabs knew the limits of the demands they could make in any deal.
It certainly helped that President Trump is in an election year and the Arabs have reason to fear a win for his opponent Joe Biden—who was part of the Obama Administration that implemented the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. Giving President Trump good press and political victories in the summer before the big vote likely was part of the motivation. And again, if the talk proves true, getting F-35 fighter jets may have been the biggest prize of all.
But in the end, President Trump knew what was needed to provide political cover for the Arabs to make an unusually good peace deal for Israel: They needed an excuse, and they got one. A pro-Israel US President about to give the Israelis everything they wanted, besides peace, ended up helping both sides win the prize of peace.
Past US Presidents have mistakenly thought pressuring Israel was the key to making peace. It turns out actively supporting Israel was the best move not just for the Jews, but the Arabs as well.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 3, 2020)