Former US Ambassador: Normalization agreement could 'generate momentum'

According to the former ambassador, "The US will need to be in dialogue with both Israelis and Palestinians," include Arab partners. This, in light of Iran's proximity to nuclear weaponry.

Dan Shapiro
WASHINGTON - The normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries “opens up many different opportunities,” said Dan Shapiro, former US ambassador to Israel.
Shapiro addressed a webinar hosted by Ron Halber, the executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. He said that Jordan and Egypt maintain a cold peace with Israel that is mostly based on a government-to-government and security relationship, but that could change thanks to the recently signed agreements.
“Imagine the kind of dialogue” that could take place with “the UAE or Bahrain or others that [might follow], who are actively trying to have cultural exchange and real warmth and with real depth,” said Shapiro.
The former ambassador noted that the Arab countries could be instrumental in promoting the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, in supporting joint economic and institution building. “It seems to me holds significant potential to generate some positive momentum.”
Shapiro suggested that “the Palestinians initially felt aggrieved” that Arab countries began normalization ties with Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could reach a resolution.
Arab states, on the other hand, “were tired of waiting for that, and somewhat also tired of some of the Palestinian leadership’s decisions to pursue their interests, which they believed were enhanced by normalizing with Israel,” he added.
But it doesn’t mean that these two goals cannot advance in parallel, Shapiro argued. “What the United States will need to do is to also be in dialogue with both Israelis and Palestinians – and to pull these Arab partners into those discussions as well.”
The former ambassador also said that Iran is closer now to breaking out to a nuclear weapon than it was when US President Donald Trump took office.
“The JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal] established a series of restrictions that by most observers would – as long as they were adhered to – keep Iran about a year [away] from the ability to break out to a nuclear weapon,” he continued.
“And after the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA... over time, Iran enriched uranium and installed some centrifuges, and today it is much closer,” Shapiro said. “By most estimates, [Iran has] somewhere between a three- and six-month breakout rather than a year breakout, if it were to do it.”
He also addressed the need to keep Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), as three US senators have introduced four resolutions aiming to stop the $23 billion arms sales to the United Arab Emirates.
“There’s historical precedent that says when one Arab state like the UAE... receives a system or [is] able to buy a system like this, others –particularly Saudi Arabia – will eventually also seek it,” said Shapiro.
“Maybe Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, will seek it. And that raises very different questions because of geography, because of questions about stability,” he argued.
“And certainly this is something else that should be taken into account when a decision like this is made. So you can see there’s congressional concern, there’s a new administration that says it’s going to review it, and obviously these QME understandings will need to be studied,” Shapiro added.
“The whole structure of this three-way arrangement is a little bit strange in a way,” he noted. “It’s true that Egypt and Jordan were also recipients of American assistance when they signed their peace agreements with Israel.
“It probably undercuts a little bit of what we believe is the right thing as a matter of principle: that Arab nations normalize relations with Israel because that’s the right thing to do,” Shapiro said. “If they will only do it if they’re rewarded with major arms sales, there are some [other countries regarding] whom it would be much more dangerous to provide that benefit than maybe it is for the UAE.”