In light of the complex regional and international developments, each country has the right to achieve its goals and adopt the policies that suit its interests. There is no place for criticizing the recent Israeli-Arab normalization agreements in a world in which each country seeks to achieve its interests. It is logical, hence, to focus on what comes next and the future impact of the normalization deals.
The latest developments require that countries affected by the normalization accords be more flexible. The concepts of friendship, hostility, and alliances are changing faster than expected.
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement of the US peace plan in January 2020, Israel exerted its utmost effort to sign peace deals with a number of Arab and Islamic countries in 2020, despite the global threat of the coronavirus throughout the year. Until present, Israel concluded peace agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. Other countries are likely to follow, such as Qatar, Morocco, and Oman.
A host of factors relate to the Israeli position toward normalization. The most important of which are the following three:
First: Israeli-Arab relations did not develop all at one. The process was gradual and the announcement was made after the completion of all its aspects.
Second: Israel established relations with Arab countries in different geographical areas to be present in strategically important sites, such as the Persian Gulf Region, the Nile Basin, the Red Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Third: Israel was focused that normalization with some of these countries starts with signing economic and trade agreements and establishing some major projects. The outcomes of these relations would be quick and direct and increase mutual interests and ties.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made history as the longest-serving prime minister in Israel. He secured his fifth term earlier this year to be the first to surpass Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Netanyahu wanted to be the first prime minister in history to seal peace agreements with three Arab countries over a relatively short period of time. There is still an opportunity to further these relations during his tenure even if his term in office is not completed and Israel conducts fourth elections in 2021.
Despite Netanyahu’s achievement, there were no reflections of this success either on his personal or on his party’s status. In Jerusalem, thousands of Israelis protested demanding Netanyahu’s resignation as he faces trial on corruption charges, that might end with his imprisonment, and as his government is under fire over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, some right-wing parties are starting to boost their power, such as Neftali Bennet, and are becoming a threat to Netanyahu and Likud.
When discussing the Israeli-Arab normalization, it is essential to refer to the US peace plan known as “the deal of the century”, that represents the main reference of the normalization approach. The political and economic aspects of the US peace plan were clearly evident in the US’ new strategy in the Middle East, which is setting normalization as a priority for the stability, prosperity, and security of the region, and promoting the notion that normalization will also resolve the Palestinian cause, not complicate it further.
It is true that one of the most important objectives of the US peace plan is to ensure that Israel is integrated as one of the main key actors within the various political, economic, security and military aspects of the regional equation. Therefore, the plan focused on normalization, and disregarded the Palestinian cause.
In this regard, the US peace plan, specifically in Part I, entitled “Political framework” included these key factors:
- The Palestinian-Israeli conflict prevented Arab states from normalizing relations with Israel, and prevented the region from being secure, stable, and prosperous.
- Israel and its Arab neighbours currently have the same increasing threats to their security.
- Economic and security cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbours could make the region more prosperous, secure and full of economic opportunity. In this case, there will be direct flights between Israel and its neighbours for transporting people and trade.
- Arab states are more ready now to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, establish partnerships with Israel, and focus on the serious issues facing the region.
- The absence of official relations between Israel and most Arab and Islamic countries has exacerbated the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If more countries normalize relations with Israel, this will help to advance a just and equitable solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and prevent extremists from using this conflict to destabilize the region.
- The US hopes that the Arab states in the region that have not yet cooperated with Israel start normalizing relations and concluding peace agreements immediately with Israel.
- Cooperation between Israel and Arab states to combat terrorism boosted security in the region.
- Promoting mutual interests in the region by establishing closer relations between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
- It is necessary to establish an organization for security and cooperation in the Middle East, to be named the “Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East and North Africa” (OSCME), based on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The normalization map is systematic and clear, and it is being implemented on the basis of an integrated vision, developed and led by the current US administration. Washington was a key actor in the Israeli normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. In addition, it used and can still use all its tools and connections depending on the situation in each of these countries, or the countries that will follow in the future.
Now the question is, how will Israel’s position toward normalization be affected by the results of the US presidential elections? One of four scenarios is likely to take place.
Scenario 1: Netanyahu races against time to sign other normalization agreements before the results of the US elections, especially that the current US administration is the one that launched the deal of the century, and successfully led normalization agreements within the framework of a consensus between all the countries.
Scenario 2: If Trump gets re-elected, he will continue to implement the peace plan, giving priority to further Israeli-Arab-Muslim normalization.
Scenario 3: If Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, the deal of the century might not be on his agenda. The Democratic Party has its own vision for the peace process and it opposes unilateral measures.
It tends to reformulate the two-state solution in a way that is different from that of President Trump and which serves Palestinian interests without affecting Israeli security. In case the deal of the century is disregarded, this will be a new variable in the region with many implications. In this case, the whole issue must be re-examined.
Scenario 4: If the US democratic administration succeeds in assuming power, it will adopt the same position of sponsoring and leading normalization agreements that achieve its interests, even if this trend slows slightly. It is worth mentioning that it was the American administration, led by president Jimmy Carter, that contributed to the achievement of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty more than four decades ago.
In case the Democrats win, strategic relations between Israel and the US will not be affected, as propagated by some. In a recent important development in the region, the defence ministers of the US and Israel exchanged visits (the last of which was the US defence secretary’s visit to Tel Aviv on 29 October).
These visits resulted in signing an agreement in Washington that guarantees that Israeli military superiority would be preserved in the region after the normalization phase. The agreement also included providing the UAE with the latest aircraft types. The agreement is binding for any US future administration. There is currently a strong tendency for the US to supply Israel with advanced weapons, including F-35 helicopters, V-22 advanced helicopters capable of carrying out special missions, and guided bombs.
In conclusion, Israel has successfully established normalization with many Arab and Muslim countries, and is currently reaping the fruits based on the unprecedented US support. The gains that Israel achieved will push it in the same direction in the next normalization phase, whether President Trump is re-elected or another US administration takes over. Furthermore, Israel has had new opportunities to further strengthen its position in the region in all areas, and it is now difficult for it to give them up easily.
In parallel with the normalization path, Israel focuses on getting more US military weapons, which is a clear Israeli message that normalization will not discourage it from continuing its pursuit of military superiority or discourage it from continuing its strict position toward solving the Palestinian cause.
Thus, the reality on the ground requires that all key actors revisit their interests and determine their next moves according to the rapid developments in the region. This reality reminds us of the well-known political principle: “There are no permanent friends or enemies; only interests.”