Israel-UAE deal turns Israel into a public regional actor - analysis

Both Netanyahu and Trump need a quick diplomatic win that can be secured in less than three months.

L-R: Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
L-R: Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Cynics have dismissed the landing of the El Al plane on the Abu Dhabi tarmac as an electoral stunt by two desperate politicians, US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a diplomatic sleight of hand, they have argued, these two men who failed at peace making with the Palestinians have sought a quick and easy win by shining a flashlight on a country with tacit ties to Israel and simply made them public.
Netanyahu’s slogan to describe the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal as “peace for peace” is on the surface of it illogical, cynics have argued, given that clear trades have been made here.
A better description could be peace for F-35 jets, since it’s clear that the UAE hope a peace deal with Israel would seal an agreement for the sophisticated stealth fighters. It could alternatively be peace for land, since Israel agreed to suspend annexation of the West Bank settlements, in exchange for the deal.
It’s true that both Netanyahu and Trump need a quick diplomatic win that can be secured in less than three months.
The deal has not even been drawn up and already Trump has added the Israel-UAE deal into his campaign speeches when citing his diplomatic accomplishments.
Netanyahu has argued that the deal was not born out of recent turbulent issues, but rather part of a long-term strategy he designed years ago, about the peace from strength.
But even if Netanyahu was wrong, and Israeli and American cynics were correct, that would still not erase the significance of the events that unfolded on Monday, when a high-level joint Israeli-American delegation flew on the first ever El Al flight to the UAE, with an aerial route that took it over Saudi Arabia. On board were National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, US Special Advisor Jared Kushner and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
It was a story told in photos that emerged of Kushner, Ben-Shabbat and UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, not because of who was there, but because of who was absent.
Kushner was correct when he said on Sunday in Jerusalem on Sunday that Trump was writing a new script for the Middle East.
Since the Oslo Accords and the Israel-Jordan deal, a well-worn pageant has played out around peace making, in which serious peace meetings show shots of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian officials. If the conversation was peace, then these were the stakeholders.
These past visuals were made more dramatic by the blood that had been shed between them. As a result, one could speak biblically of the swords that had been turned to plowshares in a new era.
ON MONDAY, Israel and the US, stood together on a new stage, literally. It was not just that about a series of first technically, first plane, first Israeli prime ministerial visit.
It was also the first significant peace gathering on Middle East in the last two decades without the familiar Egyptian-Jordanian-Palestinian trio; a visual sign that Israeli Middle Eastern diplomacy was not hinged on its burying the hatchet with its former foes.
Israel tried this once before with Mauritania, a member of the Arab League, with whom it signed a peace deal in 1999, only to have that agreement fall apart in 2009, in the aftermath of the first Gaza war.
But that deal was signed under the shadow of the Oslo Accords and prior to the adoption of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which bound all 22 Arab League nations from making peace with Israel until only after resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The UAE-Israel deal comes after that 2002 agreement, and thus, represents the first tantalizing possibility of the recension of that deal by its signatories.
With the Israel-UAE deal, the Jewish state hopes that it has graduated from both the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian state.
Just as the Palestinians appeared to have been riding the crest of an international wave to delegitimize Israel on the international stage, both at the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, Israel took a step that gave it added regional legitimacy.
Israel showed that it was a regional country capable of making deals with its more far-flung neighbors. Its most immediate neighbor, the Palestinians, must shun it, its neighbors Jordan and Egypt might extend a cold hand, but the region itself is wider and greater and might just be ready to welcome the Jewish state.
There is nothing more normal, more legitimizing than this.
Maybe Monday’s pageantry unfolded for electoral reasons. Maybe it is part of a longstanding Netanyahu doctrine that finally bore fruit.
But now that Israel is here, it doesn’t matter how or why it arrived, only whether or not the Israeli-UAE deal is truly part of new Israeli era in the Middle East, where it is not an island unto itself, with its sights set on Europe, but a regional player who sits on a regional stage.