Arab states and Israel: US vision of the Middle East meets reality

Arab states and Israel: US vision of the Middle East meets reality

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Sudan: Are other Arab states following the Emirates and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel?

In any case, the US administration under Donald Trump does not lack two qualities: vision and optimism. If you believe the President and his adviser Jared Kushner, things will change tremendously in the Middle East in the coming months. After the United Arab Emirates announced that they would formalize their previously unofficial relations with Israel and recognize the Jewish state, a number of other Arab states will soon follow – according to the White House.

The three Gulf Monarchies Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman as well as Sudan are named. When asked by a journalist whether he believed that Saudi Arabia will follow the Emirates, Trump replied on Wednesday with a convinced “Yes, I do.” But the situation seems as clear as Trump and Kushner would have us believe not to be. A few hours earlier, the Saudi foreign minister had given a clear rejection of any early relations with Israel.

“The conditions are clear,” said Prince Faisal bin Farhan during a visit to Berlin on Wednesday, “Peace between Israelis and Palestinians must be achieved on the basis of international parameters.” That means: The Saudis are ready in principle to recognize Israel, but first they want to see a solution to the decades-long Middle East conflict.

So the discussion is back on the basis of the old parameters that bin Farhan spoke of: the goal of a negotiated two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative (AFI) that the Saudis once initiated and which the Arab League agreed on in 2002. In return for the establishment of a Palestinian state, this promises “normal relations” with Israel and an end to the “Arab-Israeli conflict”. A normalization of relations without a solution for Palestine, as the Emirates are now pursuing, would therefore be a break with the AFI.

Something seems to have started to move between Sudan and Israel, too, but here too normalization is not yet decided. A government spokesman in Khartoum made public statements on Tuesday about a possible peace with Israel. Haidar Badawi Sadik told Sky News Arabic that his country was looking forward to a peace deal with Israel; there is no reason for ongoing hostilities.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately announced: “Israel, Sudan and the entire region will benefit from the peace agreement.” Sudan’s government, however, responded to the spokesman’s rushing forward with his immediate dismissal.

And even between the Emirates and Israel, everything does not seem to be entirely settled. Last week’s high-profile statement was a declaration of intent, not an agreement. Without a doubt, it was a breakthrough for US efforts to integrate individual Arab states into the US-Israeli alliance against the regional power Iran and at the same time to sideline the decades-long dominant issue of Palestine.

As for a core aspect of the deal, however, the explanation remained vague: It is unclear to what extent the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank announced by Israel is really off the table. Just hours after the statement was published, Netanyahu said the annexation was still on the table. Trump, on the other hand, stated that she was “more than off the table”, but he could not say what would happen in the future.

The declaration speaks of a postponement of the annexation plans, a formulation that every government now evidently interprets for its respective audience. The Emirati Foreign Minister Anwar Gargasch said on Thursday in a live stream of the US think tank Atlantic Council that he was not only assuming “a few months”. Even if they agreed on the wording that the plans were merely “postponed”, his country was sticking to a two-state solution for Israel / Palestine. According to analysts, annexing parts of the West Bank would make a two-state solution impossible.

Meanwhile, the Israeli media reported that the US government wanted to reward the Emirates for their normalization with Israel with an arms deal, which the Israeli government was also aware of. Netanyahu denied this. Trump also rejected a connection, but confirmed that the US is looking into selling state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jets to the Emirates.

Finally, positive signals have come from Bahrain and Oman in the past few days. Unlike Saudi Arabia, both countries welcomed the declaration of intent from Israel and the Emirates immediately after it was announced. Bahrain’s leadership praised the rapprochement as a “historic step”.

This was followed by a phone call between the Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Aschkenasi and his Omani counterpart, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, both agreed to improve their own relations in light of the rapprochement between Israel and the Emirates.

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