March 22, 2021 | Pairagraph

Securing Peace in the Middle East After Trump

March 22, 2021 | Pairagraph

Securing Peace in the Middle East After Trump

Dennis Ross

When it comes to the Abraham Accords, the Trump Administration deserves the credit for taking advantage of an opportunity, one it responded to but did not initiate. It was the UAE that came to the White House in early July 2020 and offered a win for the Administration: a peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state, the first since the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in 1994.

The price was two-fold: no Israeli annexation of the territory allotted to it in the Trump peace plan and weapons like the F-35 that had been denied to the Emirates because of the US commitment to preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge. Jared Kushner understood the significance of the offer and leaped at it and then built on it in subsequent deals. With Bahrain, pressure was applied to follow on, and with Sudan and Morocco incentives were offered—being taken off the terrorism list in the case of Sudan and recognition of their sovereignty in Western Sahara for Morocco.

Still, in the past such incentives were unlikely to have worked. The region has changed. The Abraham Accords reversed the order of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002: then, ending occupation came first and in return Israel got diplomatic recognition. Now, normalization comes first and, at least in the case of the UAE, Israel avoids taking a “negative” step toward the Palestinians. Arab states have always put their interests first before the Palestinians, even if they elevated the Palestinian cause rhetorically. What is different now is there is a loss of fear about the Palestinian ability to mobilize a threatening reaction against those Arab leaders who make the decision to normalize with Israel because it serves their interests. And, a number of Arab leaders see that Israel offers not just security benefits but can help non-military needs as well when it comes to health, water, and agriculture.

But the US still needs to play a role. The UAE wanted something from the US and that is likely to remain true with others as well. Building on the Abraham Accords won’t just happen, it will require some active brokering by the Biden Administration and consideration over what those Arab states may want from us. Passive support won’t add to the accords. Active brokering means talking, e.g., to Saudi leaders and exploring the menu of actions they could take publicly toward Israel, and what steps by the Israelis and by us would make it easier for the Kingdom to take those steps.

Like the Emirates, the Saudis may create a relationship between their action and what the Israelis will or will not do toward the Palestinians. The more politically significant their move, the more they may seek from the Israelis and from us in terms of assurances or even security commitments.

Bottom line: building on normalization will further change the landscape in the area and cement a coalition, not just for peace but against those most determined to threaten it like Iran and its proxies.

Shany Mor

As I agree with nearly every word Ambassador Ross has written here, I want to take the discussion over to where I think there might be a subtle difference.

Winding down the Arab-Israeli dispute, besides being a worthy and realistic goal of US foreign policy, can also help reduce the magnitude of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by turning it into a normal dispute over land and borders rather than an existential one.

The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not “intractable” once conceived as a normal dispute, and the parallel demands of Jewish and Arab self-determination in the lands of the former British mandate are not fundamentally irreconcilable. They just require a lot of compromise, but compromise that is not different from that which went into other projects of post-imperial national liberation.

Peoples that sought self-rule on parts of remembered historic homelands made painful compromises along the way on territory, resettlement, holy sites, and disputed narratives. This was the case with Ireland, Armenia, Greece, Poland — and Israel too. Such compromises were neither easy nor uncontroversial, and many happened in circumstances of extreme internal violence or foreign intervention.

There is nothing about the Palestinian struggle for independence that should make such moves impossible, and certainly nothing about the Palestinian desire to be free of Israeli occupation that should stand in the way. What has stood in the way is not the fervor of Palestinian claims for which they had no realistic capacity of achieving — many other liberation movements had unrealistic demands as well — but rather the conceptual unwillingness to agree to anything that might involve genuine reconciliation with the existence of Israel. A struggle for liberation wouldn’t have this problem, and indeed others haven’t. But a struggle for elimination (of another people) does, as any compromise with the existence of that which should not exist renders any parallel gain worthless.

Ross alludes to the declining “fear about the Palestinian ability to mobilize a threatening reaction against those Arab leaders who make the decision to normalize with Israel,” but historically, this fear has often run in the other direction. Palestinian leaders have had to take into account Arab opposition to peace moves with Israel, particularly concessions on symbolic issues like Jerusalem and refugees.

If anything, it is the Palestinians who have paid the price of the Arab conflict with Israel much more than the other way around. They have had to bear the burden of the Arab struggle against a cosmically evil Israel whose very existence was seen as a monumental crime that needed to somehow be reversed. The widening circle of normalization with Israel reduces the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a cosmic one to a territorial one, where the difference in the competing territorial claims is actually quite minimal.

Regional normalization is good for America’s allies, good for building a coalition against its largest regional adversary, and the best way to gradually get Israelis and Palestinians to view their own conflict as less heavenly and existential and a bit more earthbound and solvable.

Ambassador Dennis Ross is counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Dr. Shany Mor is an Adjunct Fellow at FDD. His research focuses on Israel’s relations with Europe. Follow Shany on Twitter @ShMMor. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues. 


Arab Politics Gulf States Israel Palestinian Politics