An interview with Pierre Razoux, director, Mediterranean Foundation of Strategic Studies.
The treaty signed last week between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalizing diplomatic relations is encouraging from an economic and geopolitical point of view, but with the Palestinians now further marginalized it is not without its downsides. And apart from the short-lived statesmanlike sheen it gives Trump and Netanyahu, there may less to the deal than at first glance. Pierre Razoux, the academic director the Paris-based FMES think tank, tells Leaders League what it all means.
Leaders League. Is this treaty really as ground-breaking as some are making it out to be?
Pierre Razoux. It’s certainly progress, but it is neither a surprise nor is it ground-breaking. Back-channels have existed for many years between Israel and many Gulf nations, and the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015 only strengthened the desire for closer co-operation between the states. That deal reinforced the position of Iran as a regional power, which necessitated the formation of an anti-Iran front, supplanting the muslim world’s anti-Israel front. In reality the latter has been fractured for many years and Donald Trump is merely exploiting the existing geopolitical situation for his own ends.
The agreement was signed at the White House. Would you say this was a victory for President Trump?
That is incontestably the case, because the current administration’s strategy is to sign bilateral deals that bolster its credibility. But it is far from certain that this will make any impact on voting intentions in November. Jimmy Carter was not re-elected in 1980 despite orchestrating the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt, George Bush Snr. kicking Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991 did not lead to him winning re-election a year later, and Bill Clinton becoming a two-term president had more to do with his economic policies than brokering a peace deal between Israel and Jordan.
"The UAE harbors ambitions of becoming the Singapore of the Middle East. Being in a position to sign economic partnerships with tech-savvy Israel will help it realize this goal"
So, are there any concrete benefits to the Abraham Accords?
The benefits are chiefly economic. The UAE harbors ambitions of becoming the Singapore of the Middle East. Being in a position to sign economic partnerships with tech-savvy Israel will help it realize this goal. Israel, for its part, gets to polish its image, in the sense that potential investors will now view it as an economic partner like any other. The opening of borders between the two countries will allow Israel access to the hub of Dubai, bringing closer access to China and other Asian economies.
Does this deal reinforce Netanyahu’s standing back home?
Not really. In terms of foreign policy this is undoubtedly a net win for Israel, but the prime minister will have to reckon with his electorate for having agreed to halt further annexation of Palestinian territory, despite assurances that he would do no such thing. Netanyahu needs the continued support of party hard-liners to preserve his government’s slim majority in the Knesset. If he has miscalculated, it might open the door for vice-prime minister Benni Gantz or foreign affairs minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both of whom have been unwavering in their opposition to new settlements on annexed land.
"This treaty further erodes the credibility of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, creating the potential for more hardline elements in the Occupied Territories to gain support"
Where does this leave the Palestinians?
Out in the cold. This deal signals that, despite Arab nations’ continued claims that they support Palestinian statehood, this is no longer of central importance to the states of the Arabian peninsula, who are looking out for their own interest first and foremost. Even Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is closer to the position of the UAE than his father when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This treaty further erodes the credibility of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, creating the potential for more hardline elements in the Occupied Territories to gain support. Nevertheless, an ever-greater proportion of the Palestinian people are weary of conflict, demoralized generally, and just want better economic conditions.
How has Tehran reacted?
The other big regional loser is of course Iran, which seems at first sight to be more isolated than ever by this normalization. The reactions of the political and military class and the barely veiled threats launched in the UAE bear witness to this. The treaty pushes Iran further into the camp of Russia and China. However, Iranians and Emiratis know that they are interdependent, since Dubai remains very much economically linked to Iran. Warned of what they would risk if they opened the door too wide to the Israelis, the Emiratis are pragmatic and will probably not cross any Iranian red lines.