In a ceremony held on the White House’s South Lawn, Israel signed the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain thereby establishing normal diplomatic relations between the Arab Kingdoms and the Jewish State. Both the Jewish and Arab peoples are descended from Abraham. The choice of venue is deeply significant as this was the site of the historic Camp David Accord signing of 1977, and the signing of the Oslo Accords by Israel and the PLO in 1994. In a press conference held shortly after the signing ceremony, President Trump speculated that several other Arab nations would soon join the Abraham Accords and establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel, ‘We’ll have at least five or six Arab countries coming along very quickly,’ he said.
The Abraham Accords put an end to the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s dream of a Greater Palestine. The Accords also end the Washington foreign policy establishment’s grand ideas. In the 1990’s and 2010’s, both the Clinton and Obama Administrations thought the road to Mideast peace went through Israel. They argued that ‘painful’ concessions on Israeli’s part would get Arafat to the negotiating table. Clinton condescendingly told the Israelis they needed to ‘take a risk for peace’ and, in return, Arafat would clamp down on the terrorists in the PLO and leave the Israelis alone. Land for peace was the theory.
Following Clinton, neoconservatives in the Bush Administration like John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz tried to bring democracy to Iraq via brute force. In this way, the neoconservatives hoped Democracy would spread throughout the region. Instead, the Iraq Campaign led to five years of bloody war, more than 100,000 dead Iraqis and a trillion dollars wasted in the desert. Under Obama, America withdrew from Iraq to be replaced by Iran and ISIS arose. The Abraham Accords is the first bit of good news the United States has had from the Middle East since perhaps Desert Storm.
Unlike the Camp David Accords, where Egyptian President Anwar Sadat forced Israel to surrender every last inch of the Sinai Peninsula, Israel gave up almost nothing for diplomatic recognition from the UAE and Bahrain. Prime Minister Netanyahu did have to delay plans to formally annex parts of Judea/Samaria, a move opposed by most of the world but supported by President Trump. The diplomatic smart-set predicted war. The foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain insist that the Abraham Accords are actually a step toward formal peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. ‘A just, comprehensive and enduring two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be the foundation, the bedrock to such peace,” said Bahrain’s foreign minister.
Even so, the Palestinians have never been so diplomatically isolated. The Arab League recently rejected a Palestinian proposal to condemn the Abraham Accords. Unlike previous American administrations, Trump has little interest in pushing Palestinian claims. Any future peace deal between Israel and the PLO will likely see a Palestinian state without eastern Jerusalem as its capitol and with bits of Judea/Samaria annexed by Israel.
While the Middle East moves on from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Palestinians remain deeply divided. The PLO runs the Palestinian Authority in Judea/Samaria while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. There are also a host of smaller political parties and terrorist organizations within both. In hopes of reconciliation, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have formed three emergency committees; one dealing with the new political situation arising from the Abraham Accords, one to resolve differences between the PLO and Hamas, and one to look for ways to ‘revive the PLO’.
Ironically, twenty years ago this month, Arafat began the Second Intifada. In early September of that year, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the PLO 95% of Judea/Samaria, land swaps in exchange for the other 5%, The Gaza Strip, and eastern Jerusalem. Arafat would never get a better deal. But, after the failure of peace talks personally arbitered by the Clinton White House, Arafat believed another round of violence would inflict an intolerable human toll upon Israel and rally the world against them. But the Second Intifada dragged on. The bellicose Ariel Sharon defeated Ehud Barak in a landslide election, and George W. Bush was more sympathetic to Israel than was Bill Clinton. After the bloody month of March 2002, in which 131 Israelis were killed in terrorist bombings, including more than 30 in the infamous Passover Massacre, Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield, an all-out offensive into Palestinian terrorist enclaves. The Second Intifada ended with a whimper not a bang and by the time of his death in 2005, Arafat was a mere figurehead, replaced by current PA president Mahmoud Abbas.
After the Lebanon War of 2006, Iranian backed Hezbollah and Hamas became Israeli’s principle worry and a concern of the Gulf States as well. At the same time, Iran armed Hamas and Hezbollah, fought the United States in Iraq, aided President Bashir al Assad in the Syrian Civil War, and is pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran’s actions widened the old rift between the Persian-Shia world and the Arab-Sunni world, and drove the latter close to the Israelis with whom they now share a mutual enemy.