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ANALYSIS: Arab Normalization with Israel the ‘New Normal’
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu show off their copies of the Abraham Accords, the basis for normalization between the two countries, on September 15 outside the White House. (Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images)

ANALYSIS: Arab Normalization with Israel the ‘New Normal’

Gulf states align with Jewish state because of Trump – and Biden

Tuesday’s Abraham Accord signings on the South Lawn of the White House signal a new dawn in the Middle East.

The relationships consummated were developed over many years. But nothing sits still in the region, and what seems like history now can become a mere footnote soon enough.

Politically, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is at one of his lowest points, facing a coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis. Israel’s Gulf allies and partners-to-be are dealing with low oil reserves and a financial downturn that could force highly unpopular austerity measures. And US President Donald Trump, never to be counted out, still trails opponent Joe Biden in almost every poll ahead of this November’s presidential election.

Biden, in a statement, said he would build on Tuesday’s historic moment if elected. Opponents say it is specifically Trump’s bombast – and not Biden’s lengthy foreign policy experience – that moved things forward in the Middle East after decades of stagnation.

“It’s all Donald Trump’s doing because if he doesn’t speak the way he speaks, if he didn’t task us to uncover the truth and try to forge something that’s actually achievable, none of this would have happened,” Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s former envoy for Middle East peace negotiations, told The Media Line.

It’s all Donald Trump’s doing because if he doesn’t speak the way he speaks, if he didn’t task us to uncover the truth and try to forge something that’s actually achievable, none of this would have happened

“I think he’s a unique president who speaks in a unique style [and is] willing to buck convention,” Greenblatt said.

In fact, like many of Trump’s policies, his Middle East approach is centered around doing the exact opposite of what the administration of president Barack Obama and vice president Biden did.

“I think it’s important to put this in a larger context – that these negotiations and these agreements didn’t happen overnight, but all began four years ago when President Trump came into office, and his very first overseas trip to the Middle East was to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and, of course, Israel,” Morgan Ortagus, the State Department’s spokeswoman, told The Media Line.

“President Trump [also] made it very clear that he was going to reverse the previous administration’s policy toward the Middle East. That administration decided that they were going to give billions of dollars and sanctions relief to Iran – our enemy – and we decided we don’t think that’s going to work,” she stated.

“We want to embolden the Gulf states. We want to embolden Israel. We’re going to put our US Embassy in Jerusalem. We’re going to recognize the Golan Heights. We’re going to do all the things that we were told would start World War III in the Middle East. It didn’t happen and instead, today you’re seeing historic peace agreements,” she concluded.

We want to embolden the Gulf states. We want to embolden Israel

The Iran angle is key to understanding these recent events and provides a prism through which to look at future possibilities.

Yes, there is much to gain by all parties in opening up ties between Israel and its Gulf neighbors. But Iran’s menacing footprint in the region looms large, and the Iranian nuclear accord, signed by the Obama White House and European partners, seemed to be an impetus for Gulf states to more rapidly form these new unconventional alliances despite the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The United Arab Emirates felt betrayed by the Obama-Biden decision to negotiate with Iran secretly at first,” Joel Rosenberg, a Middle East expert, told The Media Line.

“President Trump’s willingness to tear up that Iran agreement and put intense, new economic sanctions on Iran and really put economic pressure on Iran – that showed all the Arab world that this president is different and is a dealmaker. And that sort of began the process,” said Rosenberg, who has led US Evangelical delegations to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

President Trump’s willingness to tear up that Iran agreement and put intense, new economic sanctions on Iran and really put economic pressure on Iran – that showed all the Arab world that this president is different and is a dealmaker

“In addition to all these countries [Israel and several Gulf states] being incredibly close friends and allies with the United States, we have a common enemy in Iran,” Ortagus noted.

“I think that the region is starting to understand that they have to look at the Israeli-Palestinian issue in a new way,” she went on.

“There needs to be new and fresh ways of thinking. Remember, earlier this year, President Trump unveiled his vision for peace in the Middle East, and in that plan he was able to get the Israelis to agree for the first time to a Palestinian state. Now we just need the Palestinians to come to the table,” she said.

The Palestinians, however, are clearly waiting for the results of November’s US election. Biden has pledged to restore financial aid and diplomatic status to the Palestinians, things Trump cut as a result of their unwillingness to negotiate based on his peace outline.

Can Trump, suffering on domestic policy, turn his Middle East achievement into a tangible electoral achievement?

“Trump delivers peace with two Arab countries that are friends with Israel, and no American president has done it in a quarter of a century,” Rosenberg said.

“People may decide they’re still not going to vote for him, but he has a case that he’s delivering real results, that he knows how to make deals,” he continued. “They take time, but he’s doing it. That’s a pretty powerful case. And he’s up against Vice President Biden who – let’s be honest – what country did he make a deal with? With Iran! One hundred and fifty billion dollars! Trump has a clear contrast: ‘I made peace. You paid off my worst enemy.’”

One of the most popular questions now is which country will be the next to establish ties with Israel.

There’s a list: Oman, Saudi Arabia and several African countries. But a larger and more consequential question looms: Should Trump fall, could a Biden White House build on his recent Middle East success? Ironically, a Biden administration could spur more Gulf allegiances with Israel, not as a result of US deal-making but as a hedge against restored US diplomacy with Iran, along with sanctions relief.

It seems the normalization train will keep adding cars, as Arab states set the Palestinian cause aside for their own greater good: the containment of Iran.

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