With a historic peace deal announced between the United Arab Emirates and Israel in mid-August, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East in search of more peace deals with Israel.
The normalizing of relations between UAE and Israel was met with fanfare from the Trump administration, with President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner on the first direct flight from Israel to the UAE.
The next step for the United States government was to send Pompeo to the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, and Sudan in search of more good news for the administration. But Pompeo was unable to secure any further declarations and the Secretary of State went back to Washington empty-handed.
Each state has relations with the United States beyond Israel, and some viewed them as a roadblock to further negotiations. For example, the Sudanese Prime Minister said the issue of normalization of ties with Israel should not be linked with the country’s removal from the US state sponsors of terrorism list.
The best news Pompeo received was from Oman, whose leader Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said praised the UAE-Israel deal but did not comment on his own country’s relations with Israel.
Ahead of Pompeo’s visit to the region, Israel announced it expected Bahrain and Oman to follow in the UAE’s footsteps, but hopes have been tempered slightly after no new big announcements.
Before Pompeo’s visit, Israel said it also expected to normalize relations with several Muslim-majority African countries.
With some expectations that the UAE-Israel peace deal might cause some diplomatic issues in the Arab world for the UAE, it has been Palestinians who have voiced the biggest concerns.
The peace deal is a great concern for many Palestinians considering the decades-long agreement between countries in the Arab world to put pressure on Israel to return annexed land.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he “rejects and denounces the surprising announcement by Israel, the United States and the UAE,” and called it a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause.”
Palestinian officials also insist they were not consulted about the UAE deal before it was announced.
The UAE has billed the normalization as a measure to stop further annexation in the West Bank. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said annexation was “still on the table” after the UAE deal.
Furthermore, a discrepancy in the English and Arabic versions peace deal has triggered skepticism among Palestinians. The Arabic version of the deal released by UAE state media, said, “the agreement … has led to Israel’s plans to annex Palestinian lands being stopped.” But in English, the agreement was only said to “led to the suspension of Israel’s plans to extend its sovereignty”.
This small detail is of immense importance as Palestinians fear Israel could continue annexation at a later date after a suspension of its plans.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, among other leaders of Arab countries, spoke in support of the deal while calling on Israel to drop plans to further annex portions of the West Bank.
The United States, while always an ally of Israel, has become a very vocal and outward supporter of Israel and has sought to shift the state of regional politics in Israel’s favor. The UAE deal was a huge win in this direction, and with other countries supporting the deal, other leaders may follow suit.
What has been hailed as a huge win for the Israelis has been met with condemnation and worry from many Palestinians. The New York Times characterized the deal as swapping one nightmare for another, instead of annexation, the Palestinians now have to fight for their struggle to be viewed as relevant with unanimous support faltering.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem resigned from a UAE forum promoting peace after he called the UAE’s normalization of relations with Israel, “a stab in the back of Palestinians and Muslims, and a betrayal for Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.”
However, whether the Trump administration has permanently realigned the geopolitical situation in the region remains to be seen.
Pompeo, Trump Use Israel as Foreign Policy Victory
Pompeo was not only busy with diplomatic events; the Secretary of State also spoke to the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem to tout the President’s foreign policy credentials.
Pompeo called the UAE-Israel peace deal “a deal our grandchildren will read about in their history books.” He also held up the Trump Administration’s decision to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem.
Domestically, there was more concern about potential violation of the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits civil service employees in the federal government from engaging in some forms of political activity, than the contents of the speech. Pompeo has denied any legal wrongdoing, but Democrats in the House have said they intend to pursue an investigation.
This episode sheds some light on the limitations of viewing the Trump administration’s policy as a blip.
With Trump facing reelection in two months, according to polls his days in the Oval Office may be numbered. Despite this reality, the UAE plowed ahead with the Israel peace deal, and some comments from other Arab states may suggest a more permanent realignment in the region.
With that said, Pompeo and Kushner have been yet unsuccessful in securing further public affirmations that point in the direction of similar deals.
The reluctance on some states to join in can be chalked up to multiple reasons, including domestic politics, regional relations, American relations, and the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration.
However, Pompeo’s trip to the region and the UAE-Israel peace deal show that Israel is currently able to achieve a deal with an Arab country with favorable terms. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, Arab solidarity is shakier than ever before in modern memory.
While current events spell out more potential peace in the region, what it means for peace within Israel is up in the air.