We can dispense with the polite fiction that Trump made the agreement possible: The prince and the prime minister needed no American prompting. Israel
has for years been improving relations with the Gulf Arab states, and it was only a matter of time before one of them took the lead in formalizing the process.
And the UAE
was always the odds-on favorite to be the first, not least because MBZ, as the prince is popularly known, has aggressively pursued a policy of expanding Emirati influence, often by marrying his ambitions to American interests.
Between MBZ and Netanyahu, it is the prince who’s taking the greater gamble with normalization. Although the Palestinian cause no longer animates Gulf affairs as it once did, Israel remains highly unpopular among ordinary Arabs.
His spin doctors will try to portray MBZ as a savior of the Palestinians by suggesting he used the lure of normalization to prevent Netanyahu from going through with a planned annexation of large swathes of the West Bank. But this is not an easy sell.
MBZ’s enemies in the region — whether they be Yemeni, Qatari or Iranian — will accuse him of colluding with the Palestinians’ oppressors. The UAE
will receive some blame for any Palestinian hereafter killed, hurt or humiliated by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Islamist terrorists may seek to make an example of him, just as they did the first Arab leader to make a deal with Israel: Anwar Sadat.
But MBZ can ride out spasms of public opprobrium. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t need to win any elections. And the security structures of the UAE
will undoubtedly be strengthened to ensure his safety. He has obviously calculated that the rewards of normalization far outweigh any risk on his part.
Some of these are obvious. The agreement allows the two countries to openly trade in goods and services, especially of the military and intelligence kind, which MBZ needs for his ambition to turn the Emirati armed forces into a Little Sparta. Israel and the UAE, already united in their perception of the Iranian threat, can now openly join forces against the common enemy.
The other advantages of normalization for MBZ are more subtle. It will, for instance, buy him a great deal of goodwill in Washington, where his clout is already considerable. What’s more, the goodwill will be bipartisan, insulating him from a potential Trump defeat on Nov. 3. Contrast that with the fortunes of his good friend, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, which are bound to Trump.
For Netanyahu, the risks of normalization are much lower. Yes, an about-face on the annexation plan will enrage a large section of his political base, and especially the would-be settlers. That may explain his equivocation on the topic. But an exchange of embassies with the UAE would be a diplomatic triumph even his most vociferous critics cannot deny.
Netanyahu has now demonstrated that Israel can make peace with an Arab state without committing Israel to peace with the Palestinians or even a two-state solution. Now that the UAE has broken that taboo, he can hold out for similar deals with other Muslim countries.
In the meantime, Israeli businesses can look forward to making deals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which could serve as gateways to the wider Arab world. Direct flights between the two countries — unthinkable five years ago — may now be only weeks away.
That leaves the Palestinians, for whom Israeli-Emirati normalization spells only further isolation, especially if it inspires other Arab states to seek similar agreements. The Palestinian Authority can respond only with symbolic, and ultimately self-defeating, gestures, such as the decision to recall its ambassador to the UAE. Those able to clutch at straws might hope that the UAE will wield more influence on Israel when the two countries have stronger diplomatic and economic ties. But that is a very thin reed.
For the U.S., there is almost no risk at all: Two allies collaborating openly can only serve American interests. Even if this matters little to Trump, future American leaders will appreciate the agreement he announced.
Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.
As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.
Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.