(August 19, 2020 / JNS) The normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel is a historic moment worthy of celebration and optimism.
In no particular order, here are 10 points to keep in mind.
1) By taking the issue of sovereignty off the table, the Israeli right has been spared from entering into the Trump peace plan as a basis for negotiations. That plan endorsed Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, but it also supported the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, its capital in eastern Jerusalem and the ceding of more Israeli land—this time adjacent to the Gaza Strip. If sovereignty is ever to be applied, it should occur in total separation from the Trump plan. The Israeli right should breathe a sigh of relief and demonstrate some introspection. Several settler-movement leaders applauded the Trump peace plan at the White House ceremony without reading its contents. Next time, they should study such a document in advance of rendering judgment, particularly when that document pertains to the fate of their own homes
2) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says sovereignty is not off the table. The Americans and the Emirates say otherwise. To find out who’s right, wait to see the written details of the deal. Beware though. While the issue will probably be addressed contractually, if past treaties are prologue, the wording relating to sovereignty will be agreed upon, but what that wording actually means will be hotly contested, possibly for generations to come, by both sides.
3) If Israel applies sovereignty in the future, it is unlikely that such a step would destroy an Israel-UAE deal. Mutual interests between the two countries will become inextricably tied by the time such a decision is taken by any future Israeli government.
4) America, whose commitment to the Middle East has been understandably questioned recently, could very well be back in the region—and that’s a good thing. Russia, China and the European Union are pale imitations of American leadership.
5) Netanyahu’s massive presence astride the international stage and his myriad domestic achievements has not yielded him a seminal legacy issue. He has managed, rather than resolved, the matters he designates most in need of resolution, including the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear program. The normalization of ties with the UAE undoubtedly gives him that legacy achievement. Whenever he departs the political stage, this deal is one to which he can always gesture. It’s also quite possible that the inking of the agreement will enable him to add another notch to his legacy belt: finally tackling Iran.
6) Normalization turns the tables on the Iranians. For years, Iran has tormented Israel by stationing Hezbollah in southern Lebanon hard along Israel’s border. Now Iran must contend with the open fact that Israeli capabilities and know-how will be established in the UAE, likely in greater order than has been the case to this point, in a position as proximate as possible to the ayatollahs. It’s a tit-for-tat move by Israel and the UAE. Geography still matters.
7) Netanyahu has hinted that his potential successors include Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. That Cohen effectively conducted the diplomacy undergirding this deal may indicate more than the traditional Mossad role of coordinating with countries with which Israel does not enjoy diplomatic ties. Cohen’s role speaks to this being an interests-based agreement between the UAE and Israel, at the lead of which is Iran. But it also demonstrates Netanyahu’s faith in the head of the Mossad and bolsters his credentials if ever a political “succession” does take place.
8) Netanyahu is the world’s most strident voice against the Iranian nuclear program. The UAE wants that program ended. They are more likely to reach that goal with Netanyahu as premier. At this moment, Defense Minister Benny Gantz is set to soon rotate into that position. On Iran, Gantz is a far less strident force than Netanyahu, and the UAE knows it. Israeli politics are such that anything could change. Gantz may never become prime minister. But if you were the UAE, why would you wait to find out?
9) The Aug. 25 deadline for Israel’s government to pass a budget is looming, and the coalition is at an impasse. A bill to defer that deadline recently passed its first preliminary reading. The bill could still be scuttled though—the deadline missed and this government dissolved—ushering in a fourth round of elections in Israel. The U.S. presidential elections will take place on Nov. 3. Netanyahu frequently stakes his election campaigns on his international gravitas, and Trump is seeking a bump in the polls. Any signing ceremony will be timed to take place at a time that buoys the electoral chances of both leaders. If Netanyahu wants to form a coalition of new partners, a well-timed peace summit would do wonders for his prospects, and he is canny enough to have timed the announcement of normalization for when he did for that very reason.
10) Watch Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi closely. If the coalition holds, the signing ceremony could be his moment to shine—to the detriment of Gantz. Gantz is the leader of the party, but he has thus far failed to make a political impression. Ashkenazi could use this opportunity to step out from behind him, if Netanyahu allows him to do so.
11) The BDS movement was just delivered an absolute hammer blow. This deal is a massive economic opportunity for both countries. Those who have thrown in their lot with the BDS movement should understand that they are backing a racist, bigoted, Jew-hating movement that’s on the wrong side of truth, history, principle and progress. While that movement lurched between student governments seeking divestment, Israel and the UAE were identifying ways to generate massive mutual investment. Better to follow their example and join a winning team.
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