THE Trump administration’s penchant for hyperbole is again evident in the sobriquet it has given to the agreement it brokered between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel to normalize relations.
Calling it the Abraham Accord implies that all followers of the three Abrahamic religions — Jewish, Christian and Islam — are behind it.
The signing of a peace agreement between the UAE and Israel is due to take place in the White House in ceremonies to be beamed around the world but obviously aimed at impressing United States voters in the November elections of the accomplishments, patchy at best, of President Donald Trump at promoting world peace.
The ceremonies would put the occasion seemingly at par in importance with those agreements brokered by previous US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians are not a party to the agreement and were kept in the dark about it happening until it came out in the media.
The US under Trump has completely kept the Palestinians out of its efforts to bring peace in the Middle East and in fact has been outright hostile to them as evidenced by the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, D.C. Trump’s policy toward the Palestinians has been strange, perplexing and unprecedented for a country that has traditionally appointed itself mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Critics have dismissed Trump’s Vision of Peace and Prosperity for Palestinians and Israel as fundamentally flawed; it is without the participation and support of the Palestinians and caters wholly to Israeli preferences.
The UAE is only the third Arab country to normalize relations with Israel, the other two being Egypt and Jordan, which both have direct borders with Israel. Its signing a peace agreement with Israel could be questioned because it has not participated in any of the Arab wars against Israel.
The Arab countries that sent forces were Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco and Yemen. In the Yom Kippur war, there were even non-Arab forces — Cuba and North Korea. But never the UAE. The UAE may be considered at war with Israel only by its being part of the consensus among Arab and Islamic countries to put off having diplomatic relations with Israel and by its fairly recent emergence as a major player in the Middle East of considerable economic and military power.
The UAE has justified its decision to take part in this drama by its having exacted as a concession the halting by the Netanyahu government of the annexation of parts of the West Bank and thus keeping the door open to the two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The announcement of the annexation has been met by almost universal condemnation.
All the rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council signed a manifesto deploring the move as contrary to international law and a violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people. Even the majority of Israelis are said to be against the annexation, and some members of the government, including Netanyahu’s coalition partner, called for a suspension.
World leaders, including the UN secretary-general, have issued statements calling the UAE-Israel agreement a step in the right direction in the hope that it would pave the way for a two- state solution and that the suspension of the annexation of the West Bank will be definitive, not temporary.
The Netanyahu statement most probably meant to reassure supporters of the annexation has led to speculation that Netanyahu will use the threatened annexation as a ploy to gain the recognition of Israel by other Arab and Islamic countries.
Actually, the UAE and Israel reportedly have had extensive contacts; the opening of diplomatic relations is in retrospect a mere formality. That the two countries have a common ally and supplier of arms, the US, could have played a major role in the development.
It was not surprising that after the agreement to normalize relations, the two countries embarked on negotiating a wide array of bilateral agreements, involving investments, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, health care, culture and the environment.
It was foretold obviously by the Trump camp that other Arab countries would be following the UAE’s example, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco and Sudan. It was touted as a possibility that other Arab countries would be invited to the White House to witness the signing of the UAE-Israel peace agreement. These countries have contacts with Israel for diverse reasons. They may host a US presence or may be aligned against Iran. But these countries have indicated that they are not following the UAE template anytime soon.
Saudi Arabia, after giving the question some thought, has made its stand clear. It was conjectured that the Crown Prince, on account of his close ties with Trump’s son-in-law, was for recognizing Israel, but the King, wanting to keep Saudi commitments to the Palestinians, was against it. Saudi Arabia has made it known that it will not normalize relations with Israel until a peace agreement is signed between Israel and Palestine.
The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia has reportedly called on all Arab countries intending to follow in the UAE’s footsteps to demand a higher price.
“Higher price” should be understood in the context of the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia and approved by the Arab League in 2002.
The 10-sentence initiative proposes an end to the Arab-Israel conflict through full withdrawal by Israel from occupied territories (West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Lebanon), a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194, and establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. UN Resolution 194 provides that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and that compensation should be paid for those not choosing to return and for loss or damage to property, which under the principles of international law or equity should be made good by governments and authorities responsible.”
Netanyahu has flatly rejected the initiative, while a preceding government expressed itself open to it as a basis for discussion.
It seems that the White House ceremonies will be exclusive to Americans and Emiratis, not counting the diplomatic corps if it is invited to attend.
Understandably, the Palestinian leaders and public have only harsh criticism of the UAE ‘s decision to normalize relations with Israel. They have called it an act of treason against Jerusalem, al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause. In countries staunchly supporting the Palestinian cause, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, who signed the agreement and statement on it for the UAE, has been called in the media a “Satan” and a “liar.”
This was in the light of the clarifying statement of Netanyahu that suspension of the annexation of the West Bank, contrary to what the Crown Prince seemed to state, meant only a postponement.
About the annexation of territories, it may indeed be a matter of concern for the Palestinians and their supporters that the trilateral statement of the three countries ties this issue to the abovementioned Trump’s Vision Statement on Peace and Prosperity, which considered only the views of Israel, awards a united desirable piece of land to the state of Israel and chunks of less desirable land to the Palestinian state, and unilaterally gives the Palestinians four years to accept or else…
Jaime J. Yambao’s last posting as Ambassador, was Pakistan with concurrent accreditation to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. He also served on an extraordinary and plenipotentiary capacity to Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, and France.
On home duty after his tour of duty in Franc, he was appointed the Assistant Secretary for Europe at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
During the transition from President Ferdinand Marcos to Corazon Aquino, he served as First Secretary and head of the political section of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC.
He was editor-in-chief of The Philippine Collegian of the University of the Philippines, 1967-68, and president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines 1967.
He presently chairs the prestigious Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Inc.