The Abraham Accord is a grand title well in keeping with the Trump presidency’s taste for overstatement and misdirection. But the expectation that other Arab states would fall into line with the United Arab Emirates and quickly normalize relations with Israel has fallen well short of the mark. Jared Kushner’s shortcomings as a self-appointed diplomat extraordinaire solving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts were on full display in an interview he gave to The National after arriving in Abu Dhabi aboard El Al flight 971, the first-ever commercial flight to a Gulf state from Israel.
The president’s son-in-law called the deal an “historic breakthrough” that augured well for peace. Already sensing, perhaps, that the expected avalanche of Arab states moving to normalize relations was not happening as anticipated he nonetheless enthused: “So, not just in the Middle East, are now countries who weren’t thinking of normalising relations with Israel, thinking of forming a relationship and doing things they wouldn’t have thought to do a couple of weeks ago.”
Israel and the UAE: The Myth of Normalizing Abnormalities
Kushner also claimed: “There’s a lot of envy in the region that the United Arab Emirates took this step and we now have access to Israeli agriculture technology, security business. The opportunity in tourism. And so a lot of people would like to follow that now.”
Friends of Convenience
Parsing those two statements, does Kushner really think that it was only “a couple of weeks ago” that MENA countries were thinking of their relations with Israel? And does he think that describing those who have not immediately jumped aboard as displaying “a lot of envy” is the way to get them to do so? Kushner displays arrogance, ignorance and the patronizing attitude with which the Trump White House views Arabs: easily exploitable as malleable friends of convenience and eager purchasers of weapons.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had already come away empty-handed from Bahrain and Oman, two Gulf Cooperation Council states that were expected, given the precarious shape of their finances, to follow immediately in the footsteps of the UAE. He also struck out in Sudan. The Saudis had allowed the El Al flight to cross their territory — another first — but despite Kushner meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his way back from Abu Dhabi, they were not rushing to join the historic breakthrough either.
Indeed, abandoning the Palestinians so utterly on a thin promise from Benjamin Netanyahu to suspend (note: not end) West Bank annexation is proving too distasteful for many Arab leaders to stomach, even though some of them have been prepared privately to go along with Kushner’s concoction of a so-called deal of the century designed to give the Israelis virtually everything they want while denying the Palestinians a viable, territorially contiguous and independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Part of the deal with the Emiratis was supposed to be the delivery of F-35 fighter jets, long sought after by Mohammed bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi crown prince, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and de facto UAE ruler. Much to his chagrin, Israel invoked what is known as its qualitative military edge (QME). The QME is designed to ensure that whatever weaponry the US sells to Arab states, none of it will challenge Israel’s military supremacy. The Israelis have two combat-ready squadrons of F-35s.
And while Kushner and Israel made much of the deal signifying a common front against the Iranian threat, it is a simple fact that despite sanctions, the UAE, and Dubai in particular, do a lot of business with the Islamic Republic of Iran and has done so for decades. Trump’s “maximum pressure” tactics have not altered in any significant way that hard reality.
Amongst other big gestures, Kushner and the Israelis hope to bring Mohammed bin Zayed to Washington in September to sign the deal and to celebrate what he sees — and Trump will claim — as history in the making. With the election heading into its final weeks, it will be sold as a diplomatic triumph for the president, intended to appeal to his evangelical base, hence the overblown title. Whether the Abu Dhabi crown prince will go along with such a blatant electioneering ploy remains to be seen.
The deal does deserve to be acknowledged as significant if only because a third Arab state, an increasingly powerful and influential one, joins Egypt and Jordan in recognizing Israel. That is a breakthrough. Where Kushner has stumbled is in trying to hype it and sell it as something other than what it is. The Emiratis and the Israelis have been doing business for many years, but it has been done sub rosa. Normalization acknowledges that situation. And at a time when COVID-19 is laying waste to the global economy, it does herald economic benefits for both countries with deals in defense, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology being mooted.
Mohammed bin Zayed, though smarting at the nixing of the F-35 deal, can still lay claim to gaining much-added influence and stature in Washington, a situation that is not likely to change should Joe Biden win the presidency. For Benjamin Netanyahu, the wins are less clear cut. The settler movement, already outraged at his failure to deliver on annexation by July 1, may decide that what they see as his latest and largest betrayal — the suspension of West Bank annexation — is sufficient grounds to bring him down and force another election, one that, should he lose, will make him ever more vulnerable to a court case that could lead to conviction and jail for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
*[Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Mauritania recognized Israel, whereas it froze diplomatic relations in 2009.]
*[This article was originally published by Arab Digest.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.