In My View
Trump brings a huge change in Arab-Israeli relations
President Donald Trump probably made the most significant achievement in his life as a public figure on September 15 as he hosted once three unfriendly countries of the Middle East who became friends through two historic peace accords signed at the White House in Washington.
By bringing the three countries--UAE, Israel and Bahrain--together and helping them normalize relations, Trump joined only two of his predecessors--President Jimmy Carter and President Bill Clinton--who also brokered similar peace agreements between Israel, Egypt and Jordan. The past two accords with Israel took long time and protracted negotiations.
However, the current peace agreements between UAE, Israel and Bahrain were much faster and certainly the credit went to Donald Trump. By brokering these deals for normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab countries, which were once thought impossible, Trump will go down as one of the greatest peacemakers in the world. That will be surely his legacy.
And as the world watched the historic signing of the treaties, the president sitting with the leaders of Israel, UAE and Bahrain on the South Lawn of the White House had his once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity which may very well improve his poll numbers before the upcoming presidential election. The pictures of the four leaders sitting side by side at the table will be printed and re-printed in history books around the world.
The most widely read English daily in the Arab world, the Arab News of Saudi Arabia couldn't be wrong about the headline it wrote on the peace treaties between the three countries: "UAE and Bahrain start a new chapter in Arab-Israeli ties."Absolutely, there is no denying about that. As it mentioned in a subheading of its lead story on the event, the agreements between UAE, Israel and Bahrain do hold out promise for a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Israel's first peace treaty with Egypt was also signed in Washington as long as 41 years ago on March 26, 1979 following the 1978 Camp David Accords. The Egypt-Israel peace treaty was signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and observed by US President Jimmy Carter who brokered the historic treaty. The accord was inked sixteen months after a visit by President Anwar Sadat to Israel.
The second Arab country that made peace with Israel was Jordan. Their peace treaty was signed on October 26, 1994 in the Arava Valley of Israel close to the Jordanian border. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordanian Prime Minister Abdelsalam al-Majali signed the treaty while King Hussein of Jordan, Israeli President Ezer Weizman and U.S. President Bill Clinton accompanied by Secretary of State Warren Christopher watched.
After the latest peace treaties between UAE, Israel and Bahrain, the question being asked by many in the Arab and Muslim countries is: Where does Palestine stand among all these? During a discussion with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed before the signing ceremony, President Trump said he believed the Palestinian leadership would eventually sign on to the U S--brokered peace agreements.
In a tweet shortly before the ceremony, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said: "This is a true example of breaking down borders and overcoming divisions. I hope and pray that this coming year will be a year of breaking down more barriers � working together to overcome shared challenges and advance mutual understanding, peace and cooperation in our region and around the world."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who signed the treaties on behalf of his country hinted that the peace may end the Arab-Israeli conflict permanently. Greeting Israel's friends in the Middle East "those who are with us today and those who will join us tomorrow" in a traditional Islamic way, Netanyahu said: "The blessings of peace that we make today will be enormous --- first because this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all."
At the White House event, UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, who signed the treaty for UAE, reaffirmed his country's support for the Palestinian cause. He said:"This accord will enable us to continue to stand by the Palestinian people and realize their hopes for an independent Palestinian state within a stable and prosperous region. This accord builds upon previous peace agreements signed by Arab nations with the state of Israel. The aim of all these treaties is to work towards stability and sustainable development."
Stressing the need for bringing the Palestinians into the peace process, U.S. ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta said: "All parties should encourage them to come and negotiate, put their best ideas and arguments forward, be prepared to compromise, negotiate and reach a settlement, and move forward for the betterment of all the Palestinian people. I know we all feel very strongly about this and this is what we will be focusing on going forward."
But hundreds of Palestinian people greeted the peace agreements for normalization of relations with Israel by holding rallies in several Palestinian towns. Speaker after speaker at these rallies described the peace accords as "a stab in the back of the Palestinian people" and a deviation from a long-standing Arab position spelt out in the Arab Peace Initiative which was launched by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by Arab League in 2002.
Former British Prime Minister and Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East Tony Blair, who was one of 700 guests at the White House signing ceremony of the normalization treaties called the "Abraham Accord", however, sees new opportunities for Palestinian people. In an opinion piece published shortly after the historic event in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Blair said: "The watershed agreements represent the most momentous diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East for over a quarter of a century, and this should be celebrated."
He said he had long believed that reaching an agreed solution to the Palestinian issue would not be possible without direct engagement and cooperation of the Arab world. "These agreements provide the opportunity to establish a new framework for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and we should work on creating the right conditions so that peace and normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab states can serve as a stimulus, rather than an impediment, to progress on the Palestinian front.
Meanwhile, even though Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas reacted furiously to the signing of the accords for normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab countries, Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, predicted that the Abraham Accords between the UAE, Israel and Bahrain would open a new path that would achieve peace not only between Arabs and Jews but also between Israelis and Palestinians.
An advocate for peace over many decades, Lauder who also attended the signing of the two separate peace deals at the White House being invited by President Donald Trump, told Arab News he believed the Abraham Accords would open the door to an eventual final peace with the Palestinians and strengthen the Jewish community's presence in the Arab world. He said the Palestinian should seize the moment and expressed his hope that they would eventually sign an agreement with Israel as they deserved justice.
Representatives of Oman and Sudan also attended the historic White House event signaling their readiness to normalize relations with Israel as well. Oman, another member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, is expected to be the next in line followed by Sudan. Analysts believe that no one should be surprised even if Saudi Arabia itself, the leader of the Arab world, announces its decision to normalize relations with Israel. They, however, say that the kingdom is not ready yet to take such a big step.
By signing the peace accords with Israel, the UAE and Bahrain have made one thing very clear--- even though they have enough sympathy for Palestinians; they place their national interest atop everything. However, as Tony Blair says, the Arab-Israeli engagement will be probably good thing for Palestinians too and eventually the friendship may do what hostility couldn't over so many years.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network