”The road to Arab-Israeli peace no longer runs through Ramallah.” (Avi Mayer)
The US-brokered Israel-UAE normalization agreement in August 2020 was swiftly followed by a similar agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as an Israel-Bahrain agreement. The Israel vs. Arab perception is rapidly changing to an Israel-Arab vs. Iran perception. White House announced the Serbia-Kosovo normalization agreement only 22 days after it announced the groundbreaking Israel-UAE normalization agreement, and an Israel-Bahrain normalization agreement was announced shortly after the Serbia-Kosovo news.
Kosovo’s normalization with Israel makes it the fifth Muslim country to normalize or sign a peace agreement with Israel following the peace agreements with Egypt in 1977, Jordan in 1994, Lebanon in 1983 after the Israeli invasion the previous year, and the UAE in 2020—and since the announcement they have been joined by a sixth, the Gulf State of Bahrain.
Critics accuse Trump of seeking a quick foreign policy success to tout ahead of his bid for re-election in November 2020. This might be true. However in my opinion the recent MidEast (peace) process is moving fast forward. Previous peace process implemented last two decades has been moderate at most; the goal Utopian or delusional and the roadmap towards aim has been dead for years. The new partly implemented – out of the box – approach is from my perspective based facts on the ground, the progress is made by economic side first instead of political and the approach is more regional one than bilateral especially related to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Widening anti-Iranian coalition
”And, you know, if you want to have peace in the region, you have to create peace with Israel. This is the first step. This is the strong message.” (Tri Ali Rashid al Nuaimi/UAE)
The decision by the United Arab Emirates to sign an agreement toward normalization with Israel was hailed by Egypt, Oman, Bahrain, Sudan and Mauritania. It was severely criticized, however, by Islamist forces and the Palestinian Authority. For many years, and particularly over the last decade, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has striven to disseminate a religious-political doctrine that defines peace as an Islamic value and a fundamental element of national identity. It poses this stance as an ideological alternative to the radical concepts of political Islam advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi-jihadist forces in the region. Those who formulated it named it the Abraham Accord, in honor of the father of the three monotheistic religions.
UAE-Israel deal is very significant also to Iran. The Iranian investments in the Emirates are estimated to total in about 300 billion dollars. The Emirates are home to a large community of hundreds of thousands of Iranians. According to various estimates, 454,000 Iranians lived in the Emirates in 2018 (about five percent of the UAE’s population), most of them in Dubai (Iran Migration Outlook, 2020). In addition, about 8,000 Iranian traders operate in the UAE, along with thousands of Iranian-run businesses. There is also a social-cultural Iranian club in Dubai, Iranian schools and an Iranian hospital. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines operated about 200 flights on a weekly basis from various cities in Iran to the UAE, which brought in about 100,000 Iranian tourists into the country on an annual basis.
On September 4th, 2020, President Donald Trump hosted Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti at the White House to sign an economic normalization agreement that will i.a lead to the establishment of air, rail, and motorway links between Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. However on the economic front, Serbia and Kosovo are also at odds over the Trepca lead and zinc mining complex, energy supplies, the Gazivode/Ujmani reservoir and trade barriers.
Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999 when NATO bombed for 11 weeks Serbia. It declared independence in 2008 with the backing of the major Western powers and over the fierce objections of Serbia and e.g. its big-power ally Russia. The EU, with the backing of the US, has spent years trying to prod the two sides towards what diplomats call a ‘normalization of relations’.
As part of normalization deal Belgrade and Pristina have both vowed to establish relationships with Israel. They plan to open embassies in Jerusalem by 2021, which will make them the first European countries to do so. Significantly, Pristina’s will be the first embassy of a Muslim-majority state in Israel.
Despite normalization agreement I still think that Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, as well as its hasty recognition as an independent state, was a mistake – in my view Kosovo is failed state or even captured state by organized crime clans –Albanian mafia. Links between drug trafficking and the supply of arms to the KLA Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA aka UÇK) were established mid-90s during war in Bosnia. In West KLA was described as terrorist organization but when US selected them as their ally it transformed organization officially to “freedom” fighters. After bombing Serbia 1999 KLA leaders again changed their crime clans officially to political parties. This public image however can not hide the origins of money and power, old channels and connections are still in place in conservative tribe society. (More e.g in Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi Indicted for War Crimes )
Bahrain agreed to establish formal relations with Israel in advance of Tuesday’s [15th Sep. 2020] anticipated historic signing in Washington of an accord to normalize ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. It is likely that a second accord could be signed Tuesday between Israel and Bahrain.
Israel is now “working toward the opening of an Israeli embassy in Bahrain,” according to a Foreign Ministry official. Already on Saturday [12th Sep. 2020] Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his Bahrain counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid al Zayani. “I look forward to deepening and strengthening the relations between our two countries. Together we will work towards peace and stability in the Middle East,” Ashkenazi tweeted.
On Friday [11th Sep. 2020] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that more agreements with Arab states would follow the Bahrain agreement, and the one arrived at with the UAE in August. To underscore the speed with which events are unfolding, Netanyahu noted on Friday that it took 26 years, from the signing of a peace deal between Israel and Jordan in 1994, for there to be an existing deal, such as the one with the UAE. After that, he said, it was only another 29 days to make a fourth deal. “This is a new era of peace,” Netanyahu said in a video message, in which he underscored that what is occurring now is “peace for peace” and “economy for economy.”
After Trump’s announcement, the US, along with Israel and Bahrain issued a joint statement.
“This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East. Opening direct dialog and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security and prosperity in the region,” it said.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan had a conversation with Bahrain’s ambassador to the UN, Jamal Fares Alrowaiei. Israel’s Mission to the UN called the conversation “warm” and said that the two congratulated each other. The two reportedly “also agreed to meet to discuss cooperation in the UN on issues of innovation and economic development for the benefit of the two countries.
“Expanding the circle of peace in the Middle East can lead to a change at the UN as well,” Erdan said. “We are entering a new era in which we can publicly work together on security issues and the economic prosperity of Israel and the Arab countries. Together, we will face the challenges that threaten stability in the Middle East.”
According to London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, Maj.-Gen. Herzl “Herzi” Halevi, IDF’s Southern Command chief, flew to Doha/ Qatar late August along with other officials from the IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad, and National Security Council to reduce tensions with the Gaza Strip and restore a sense of quiet to the South and to prevent a military escalation.While Egypt has been playing the main role in mediating the crises, the report said the IDF wants to see Qatar play a larger role in mediating, and not just send financial aid to the group. Halevi made a similar visit in February with Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen.
Qatar is the main financial provider to Gaza, periodically sending millions of dollars to Hamas every month for the past two years with Israel’s approval to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, as well as to pay the salaries of the group’s civil servants and provide aid to tens of thousands of families. Doha first began sending $5 million per month, later increasing it to $10m. and then to $20m. This year it started sending $30m. According to reports, Hamas is demanding another increase, $40m. every month in cash on a regular basis, to extend to a “pre-determined long-term period of time.”
Splitting Arab League
“the triumph of money over dignity” (Senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh)
In blow to Palestinians, Arab League refuses [9th Sep. 2020] to condemn normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, proposed by the Palestinian Authority. Senior official says foreign ministers were not in agreement on Palestinian issue, after PA foreign minister criticizes body for failure to show unity in backing its cause. Palestinian politicians condemned the deal as soon as it was announced in mid-August by US President Donald Trump, with many calling it “a stab in the back” by an Arab ally. Palestinian Liberation Organization chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that if Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit could not condemn the treaty, he ought to resign.
Furthermore, the Arab League wasn’t in any rush to discuss the issue. Palestinian officials had originally called for an emergency meeting of the pan-Arab body against the deal when it was announced, but said they were told to wait nearly a month, when a regular meeting had already been scheduled. The event also exposes the profound schism in the current Arab and Muslim world between the pragmatic axis, centered in Egypt, Jordan, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, and the radical axes, led by Turkey and Iran.
From historical background it might be worth to mention that on May 15, 1948, the seven founding member states of the Arab League launched what the body’s then-secretary general, Azzam Pasha, called a “war of extermination and a momentous massacre” against Israel, which had been established the previous day. Following Israel’s resounding victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the League gathered in Khartoum and issued its notorious “three ‘no’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
Incapable EU and Delusional Palestinians
“I call on the Palestinian leadership to understand the reality, to be responsible, to play a leadership role — as the UAE and Bahrain have done — and to return to the negotiating table,” ( Gabi Ashkenazi. FM/Israel)
The Serbia-Kosovo deal surprised the European Union, which has been leading complex talks between Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo on improving their long-strained relations.The European Union has warned Serbia and Kosovo that they could weaken their chances of gaining membership in the bloc by opening up respective embassies in Jerusalem. Brussels has long maintained that Jerusalem’s final status should be determined through Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, although there is no longer a consensus due to Israel having made diplomatic inroads with numerous European countries, primarily those located in the eastern part of the continent.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi was recently the host of his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, whose countries currently assumes the EU presidency. The discussions between FM’s were related to the new situation after UAE-Israel agreement and freezing of Israel’s plan to extend its sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) as part of the accord. Several EU foreign ministers have reportedly called for the renewal of the EU-Association Council which has not held a formal meeting since 2012. Now in the framework of the recent US-brokered agreements there might be time for normalization also Israel-EU relations.
In another setback for those hoping that the Palestinians be given veto power over Israel’s relations with other countries, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have agreed to make their airspace available to flights flying eastwards out of the Jewish state. The development, will drastically reduce flight times between Israel and the Far East. That knocks down a barrier that’s been up for 72 years.
One can easy understand Palestinian and Iranian concern about the impact of the agreements on the balance of power in the region as a whole and the Persian Gulf in particular. I hope that White House ceremony (signing for peace agreements) could serve as a wake-up call to Palestinians who have long been led to believe that Arab leaders will sacrifice their own national interests on the altar of Palestinian rejectionism. That is clearly no longer the case. Avi Mayer hits the nail on the head concluding that ”the road to Arab-Israeli peace no longer runs through Ramallah.”
An improved economic situation was]“a necessary precondition to resolving what was previously an unsolvable political situation,” (Jared Kushner)
Foreign policy has not figured prominently in the election campaign, but President Trump is eager to present himself as a peacemaker, his pro-Israel moves have been seen as an effort to bolster his appeal to evangelical Christian voters, an important segment of his political base. Elections might be the cause for timing of these deals but in my opinion they are implementing parts of ”Deal of Century” (DoC) aka ”Trump peace plan” – a long waited Mideast peace plan by the White House – officially known as ”Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, which is a proposal to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
DoC is “out of the box” plan made by by the Trump administration is a reaction to political realities in MidEast, instead of previous UN’s, EU’s etc high flown statements and utopias. DoC is the United States’ redefinition of the parameters for definitively resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an updated version to sc ”Clinton parameters” – created during Oslo process – which were the framework some two decades for negotiations between Israel and Palestinian authority.
And this plan seems to be working on the ground. Today many leaders in the MidEast recognize that the approach that’s been taken in the past hasn’t worked and they realize that there are people who want to see a more vibrant and exciting future. In my opinion the recent MidEast (peace) process is moving fast forward. Previous peace process implemented last two decades has been moderate at most; the goal Utopian or delusional and the roadmap towards aim has been dead for years. The new partly implemented – out of the box – approach is from my perspective based facts on the ground, the progress is made by economic side first instead of political and the approach is more regional one than bilateral especially related to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This article first appeared in Conflicts by Ari Rusila blog