Reactions by Analysts, Media and Commentators
The agreements with the UAE and Bahrain envision exchanges and joint enterprises across virtually all social and economic sectors. If other Arab states follow suit and join in expanding trade, investment, cooperative building projects and people-to-people exchanges with Israel, the resulting regional integration could be an engine for economic growth, job creation and enhanced prosperity.
The best option is an alliance of moderates and modernizers — anyone in power (or seeking power) who wants to move his country in the direction of greater religious and social tolerance, broader (that is, beyond energy) economic development, less preoccupation with ancient disputes, more interest in future opportunities. Such an alliance is the only hope for a region being sucked into the maw of religious fanaticism, economic stagnation, environmental degradation and perpetual misrule.
Now this alliance may finally be coming into being.
In signing historic peace agreements with Israel this week, the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are showing immense courage. Those leaders have long ago concluded that the Jewish State of Israel did not need to be feared in the Middle East, but that there were forces — extremist Shia elements and extremist Sunni elements — that ought to be feared and confronted.
The UAE’s leadership is now saying publicly what we always heard privately on our visits to Abu Dhabi – namely that they want to look to the future, not the past, and be strong partners to the United States. They also believe that economic opportunities for their youth lie in greater regional integration, diversification of their economy away from fossil fuels, and in the development of a Western-style high-tech sector. The Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed is a farsighted Arab leader who rightly understands that normalization with Israel can strengthen his bonds with the U.S. and solidify the UAE’s regional leadership.
The breakthrough announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will normalize diplomatic relations was the culmination of years of secret contacts — and then a final push by the UAE that persuaded Israel to back off its plans to annex the West Bank.
The decisive turn in the negotiations began in June, when the Emiratis signaled that Israeli plans to declare sovereignty over the West Bank and annex parts of it would shatter the process of normalization that had been making quiet progress. The messenger was Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to Washington. He warned of danger ahead in a June 12 op-ed that was published in Hebrew in Yedioth Ahronoth, a leading Israeli paper.
Otaiba affirmed the benefits of normalization for Israel: “Greater security. Direct links. Expanded markets. Growing acceptance. This is what normal could be.” But then he cautioned sharply: “Normal is not annexation. Instead, annexation is a misguided provocation of another order,” and “Israel’s decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal.”
The agreement brokered by the Trump administration for the United Arab Emirates to establish full normalization of relations with Israel, in return for the Jewish state forgoing, for now, any annexation of the West Bank, was exactly what Trump said it was in his tweet: a “HUGE breakthrough.”
This process apparently started after the U.A.E.’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, published a letter in Hebrew in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot in June directly warning that Israeli annexation of the West Bank would undermine the quiet progress Israel had made with the gulf Arabs.
We don’t hear many good news stories out of the Middle East, particularly recently, in the midst of the despair over Beirut, regional conflicts and the ravages of covid-19. But on Thursday there was a hopeful development: President Trump announced a historic peace agreement that will normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
President Trump’s Mideast strategy has been to strongly back Israel, support the Gulf monarchies, and press back hard against Iranian imperialism. His liberal critics insisted this would lead to catastrophe that never came, and on Thursday it delivered a diplomatic achievement: The United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to normalize relations, making the UAE the first Arab League country to recognize the Jewish state in 20 years.
It has been a long-term strategic goal of Democratic and Republican administrations to pursue normalization between Israel and Arab states. This breakthrough is good news for the United States, and it was warmly welcomed by both the Trump administration and former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign.
But it brought additional benefits to the United States, by burying any chance of unilateral annexation in the West Bank. That is also good news.
William Wechsler, Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and Middle East Programs, Atlantic Council
It’s been so long since the Middle East last experienced undeniably good news, that observers can be forgiven if they have difficulty recognizing it when it happens. But the “Abraham Accords” is indeed one of those moments.
The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates pulled off the rarest of feats on Thursday: a diplomatic win-win-win in the Middle East. President Donald Trump announced a historic breakthrough in which the UAE will normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Israel dropping its plan to annex parts of the West Bank that Palestinians claim for a future state.