Lost amid wall-to-wall coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming election is a glimmer of peace in the Middle East.
For decades, most Arab nations have said they would only establish diplomatic and economic ties with Israel after the Palestinian dispute was settled.
The Palestinians have relied on this unified Arab response to press for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and the acceptance of a Palestinian state.
But the United Arab Emirates last month reached a landmark deal to fully normalize relations with Israel and the Gulf state of Bahrain has recently followed suit.
President Trump, who presented his Middle East peace plan in January, helped broker both accords.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, known as a tough critic of President Trump, called the UAE deal “a geopolitical earthquake” in his Aug. 13 column — one that could stabilize the region and encourage other Gulf sheikdoms to normalize relations with Israel for the security and prosperity of all involved.
To fully appreciate the magnitude of the deal, “you need to start with the internal dynamics,” Friedman wrote. “It was Trump’s peace plan drawn up by Jared Kushner, and their willingness to stick with it, that actually created the raw material for this breakthrough.”
The process apparently began in earnest with the UAE ambassador to Washington publishing a letter in an Israeli newspaper warning that Israeli annexation of the West Bank would undermine quiet progress that Israel had made with gulf Arabs.
When Israel did not begin the process of annexing West Bank territory on July 1 as Israeil Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had indicated, the Emiratis “reportedly took the opportuity to promise full normalization of relations if annexation was taken off the table,” according to an analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations
It was the discussions over how to stop annexation “that created a framework where the UAE could be seen as getting something for the Palestinians” in return for its normalization with Israel, Friedman wrote. However, the Palestinians aren’t happy, viewing both the UAE and Bahrain as traitors to the Palestinian cause.
The UAE and Bahrain — both allies of Saudia Arabia — have shared with Israel worries over Iran, leading to unofficial contacts over the years that have now blossomed into normalized relations. These include business relations, tourism, direct flights, scientific cooperation, and, in time, full diplomatic ties at the ambassadorial level.
The big geopolitical losers are Iran and all its proxies, Friedman wrote.
“This was the UAE telling the Iranians and all their proxies: There are really two coalitions in the region today — those who want to let the future bury the past and those who want to let the past keep burying the future. The UAE is taking the helm of the first, and it is leaving Iran to be the leader of the second.”
In a year so hungry for positive news, who would have guessed that it would have come out of the Middle East?