The last time I was in Israel people were preparing for the worst. ‘This crazy bastard is going to annex the West Bank and then we’re all screwed,’ my Israeli friend bemoaned to me. It turns out he was wrong. The United Arab Emirates and Israel have just agreed to normalise relations. In return, Israel has agreed to suspend its plan to annex large chunks of the West Bank.
Make no mistake: what has happened is historic. The UAE has been politically hostile to Israel since even before it gained independence from Britain in 1971. There has not been a single day in its existence where it has not officially called for an end to the Jewish state. Now the two are allies – and no one saw it coming. In politics pretty much everything leaks, but sometimes it doesn’t.
The US-brokered deal – known as the Abraham Accords – was announced today in a joint statement by Donald Trump, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. They hoped, they said, the ‘historic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East.’
This is a story of many levels. As ever, with foreign policy breakthroughs much of it is about domestic concerns. Donald Trump, just months away from the November presidential elections, gets to tout a major – indeed his greatest – foreign policy triumph to the American electorate. Abu Dhabi gets to be the state that stopped Israel’s drive to annexe the West Bank – a move reviled in the Arab world – while gaining the economic and security benefits of formal ties with Jerusalem.
And Israel? Well, it gets yet more regional acceptance and, vitally, to dodge actually having to annex the West Bank.