“Nobody thought it could happen,” President Trump said on Tuesday, and for once he’s right. The Middle East peace accord signed on the White House’s South Lawn was unexpected and seemed extremely unlikely.
But it was real. It’s a major event and Trump’s role in it is worthy of recognition.
On Sept. 15, the president signed historic diplomatic pacts with Israel and two Gulf Arab nations, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that are intended to normalize relations between the three nations. With the signing, the UAE and Bahrain are now expected to establish embassies with Israel, as well as establishing greater trade, tourism and investment links — and, possibly, intelligence-sharing against Iran. It’s a major shift from the adversarial relationship that Israel has experienced historically with Arab nations.
Or, as Trump put it, “I think Israel isn’t isolated anymore.”
The signing “heralds a new dawn of peace,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the ceremony. He offered praise for his Arab neighbors, claiming allegiance with “all the children of Abraham.”
The agreements weren’t literal peace accords — none of the nations had been at war with each other — but they still signal a sea change in the region.
There’s obvious incentive for UAE and Bahrain to cooperate more formally with Israel. Having stronger ties with a U.S. ally is likely to increase their influence in the region, where Iran is also competing to be a major player. Also, the UAE has been trying to buy advanced F-35 stealth jets and other weaponry from the U.S. for eight years. Peaceful relations with Israel make it more likely to succeed.
And the agreement makes it more comfortable for the U.S. to reduce its military presence in the region, a goal for the Trump administration.
A major international accomplishment is also likely to boost Trump’s reelection campaign, which can’t be far from his mind.
The agreement, in addition, seems to have the tacit blessing of Saudi Arabia, another major player in the area, according to U.S. officials. There’s hope that the Saudi kingdom will eventually follow suit and establish diplomatic ties with Israel.
The pact, however, does nothing to resolve the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which seems further away than ever. The UAE and Bahrain claim to still support the Palestinians and their hopes for an independent state. This likely will lead to complications.
Nothing is easy in the Middle East.
Before the ceremony, Trump said that “at least five or six countries will be coming along very quickly.” Well. That remains to be seen. If he’s right, it would be an even greater accomplishment. It might even lead to the Nobel Peace Prize he’s coveted for years.
Still, the pacts represent a major feather in Trump’s cap and he deserves credit for his role in the agreements, as does White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who brokered the deal despite skepticism from many quarters. Several presidential administrations have tried to shepherd a peace in the region, only to fail. Maybe an outsider’s perspective is the only one that could have succeeded.
The ink is still moist on the pact, though, and no one should be absolutely confident about its provisions until after they’ve been tested. But anything that creates hope for more stability and peace in this volatile region should be celebrated.
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