Smoke and Mirrors – the reality behind the Israel-UAE peace deal

The leaders Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu

Abid Zaidi

Abid Zaidi is an incoming 2nd year student of Politics and Economics at LSE. His interests lie in institutions of governance, public policy, and the politics of the Middle East, and would like to pursue these at a Masters or PhD level. He is a member of the Labour Party, and on the committee for LSESU’s Labour Society.

29th August 2020

Yonatan Sindel / Flash90

It’s becoming increasingly clear that political sham is the moniker of the Netanyahu government. From the corruption charges looming over the Israeli Premier, to his legislative inability in summoning the numbers in the Israeli legislature (Knesset) to secure a full future term forcing him into a power sharing agreement, his most recent years in the political limelight haven’t been all too flattering. As such, any policy benefits that come his way, domestic, foreign, or otherwise, would surely go a long way in boosting his image to the Israeli electorate.


A peace deal with the UAE would have seemed a blessing from the divine for Netanyahu. It would have afforded him praise from swing voters in the last election who potentially may not have fully been onboard with his election manifesto, giving him the possibility to call new elections, with which he could strengthen his mandate, ending the need to wrangle with his power sharing partners.


Mediators in the form of Trump, his Middle Eastern mogul Jared Kushner, and foreign policy hawk Mike Pompeo would have also been pining for a foreign policy win. In an election year marred by domestic incompetence as evidenced by the polls, any win would be welcomed by the US administration.


In the weeks following, however, where political ramifications of Israel’s newly brokered deal with the UAE were digested, it’s clear to see the deal was, is, and will continue to be, a political sham. Bombing parades and skirmishes along the Gaza strip have intensified to severe levels in the two weeks since its ratification. In coming to the table in the first place, one could assume the UAE seemed somewhat concerned about the plight of the Palestinians, through its forcing of the Israeli government to push pause on any further annexation of the West Bank. Such a promise now seems hollow.


The agreement seemingly fails on multiple fronts, both in its execution, and on the supposed benefits it should bring to its signatories, who are in dire need of some political relief following intense media scrutiny in their respective domestic political landscapes.


Trump grasping at short straws


Indeed, brothers in arms Trump and Netanyahu have both faced legal and legislative inquiries as to their conduct within office that have undoubtedly hurt their image. In entering “pandemic season”, both leaders saw their approval ratings tank; 61% of the Israeli electorate were dissatisfied with Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic, whilst Trump saw a similar, albeit far less dramatic fall after March. Evident from the pomp and circumstance he placed around the affair, the US President sought to curry the favour of pro-Israel swathes of the American electorate, having lost a sizeable chunk to his competitor Joe Biden. But the orchestration of the deal has left him between a rock and a hard place.


Amidst both, a group of pro-Israeli voters that want Trump to support an expansion in Israel’s settlements, and another of typically younger progressives who aim for a two-state solution, the deal Trump has brokered seemingly hasn’t found the much sought after “goldilocks” policy platform, that would appease both groups. Simultaneously, his vigorously obedient Republican base would most likely not welcome Trump’s attempts to score from a foreign policy standpoint, particularly as they’re reminded of the “America First” pledge he’s purportedly committed to in the upcoming election campaign. Hell, even AIPAC seemingly weren’t fully onboard with the idea.


After all of this, even if one were to deem this an “objective” policy success, his inability to grasp what the key issues in this election are will hurt him come November. At present, Americans are more focused on the concurrent crises of coronavirus, the impending economic recession, and the issue of systemic racial injustice within the country; a triple threat of issues, none of which are satiated by this deal.


Netanyahu renegading on a week-old deal


Additionally, the deal seems to be nothing more than a smokescreen for Israel’s current violations of the rights of Palestinians. There is an undeniable possibility that Netanyahu and the Israeli government, as evidenced by their duplicity vis a vis the Oslo Accords and their ravaging of lands protected under it, will carry out their plans for annexation once the talk of the deal has left the news cycle, with the blessing of the current US administration. It’s already going back on promises that both the US and UAE have publicly declared were part of the deal.


Lest we forget, Israeli settlers ALREADY inhabit the land the Israeli PM supposedly ceased annexation of in the first place. Within the proposed area of the West Bank earmarked to be annexed reside around half a million Israeli settlers, all living illegally under international law – the Israeli government would almost definitely not sign a deal with any Arab state lest it meant these settlers are uprooted; after all, it is they Netanyahu depends upon for his retention of power in the Knesset, which he may call upon if he decides to run fresh elections to update his mandate before he has to relinquish power later in the decade apropos of his power sharing commitments. A deal simply allows the UAE to superficially “preserve their honour”, and seemingly act in the interest of Palestinians, whilst in actuality providing Netanyahu political credit on a silver platter.


Even then, any political highs that could be ridden from this deal, would seemingly not last. On the one hand, Netanyahu has accomplished a huge diplomatic move, and hasn’t had to sacrifice much to gain what is professedly a big win. On the other hand, in a year where the coronavirus has pushed the Israeli and American governments into disarray, the political news cycle is constantly rolling. For any benefits to be entrenched, the respective governments need to act as soon as possible to capitalise upon fresh mandates and limited popularity. Due to the nature of the pandemic’s “new normal”, however, and their need to focus domestically, they have not been able to do so. Ergo, the double-edged sword that is this deal.


The bottom line


In sum: this deal holds no weight. The UAE has thrown away any sort of credibility in its pursual of Palestinian “liberation”, and the US has seemingly not gained anything from the transaction. As evidenced, Netanyahu is not particularly serious about thawing his relations with its Arab nations; rather, his currency seems to be cheap political points with which he can lengthen his political career, akin to his political counterpart in the US. For the Israeli government to be taken seriously by other Arab nations, and the wider international community, nothing short of a full commitment to ending its occupation of Palestine and addressal of the human rights abuses in the nation will suffice.


Under the current administration of these three countries, it doesn’t seem that this day will come anytime soon.



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