Jimmy’s Washington Examiner Op-Ed | Trump’s unprecedented Middle East strategy led to the historic Abraham Accord
Written by Jimmy at the Crossroads on August 25, 2020
Coauthored with Centennial Institute Fellow Samuel Lourie
Aug. 13, 2020, marked the diplomatic climax of decades of back-channel dealings between Israel and the United Arab Emirates — and the making of history. President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed jointly announced the agreement to open bilateral relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
As senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner noted with surprise, many in the American and European news media and foreign policy establishment were stunned by this landmark accord, one that uprooted decades of failed Middle East policy in the West. No one seemed to expect that Trump’s alternative peace plan would work, yet such a momentous deal is reality — and it has far-reaching implications for the world that will reshape the Near East geopolitical landscape for decades to come.
Early in Trump’s presidency, he announced his intentions to broker “the deal of the Century” between Israel and the Palestinians. He was largely written off and even mocked for his apparent “ignorance” in the complexities and intricacies of Middle East politics. Yet for Trump, it was clear that America’s policies in the region simply were not achieving their desired outcomes. Oftentimes, they were even disastrous or counterproductive.
Trump, Kushner, former U.S. Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and their teams arrived in Washington clear-eyed about the shortcomings of previous American administrations, Democrat and Republican alike, to broker Middle East peace. Their teams conducted sweeping shuttle diplomacy meetings between Israel and the Gulf Arab powers to see how they may be able to bring them together toward peace and normalization.
The first crucial distinction of the Trump administration’s strategy to that of preceding U.S. administrations was to focus on mending fences between Israel and the Gulf Arab states rather than bringing the Israelis and Palestinians to the table and forcing them to make near-impossible concessions. They turned decades of American foreign policy on its head by choosing to prioritize relations between Israel and Gulf Arab countries over forcing Israel to negotiate with an uncooperative Palestinian regime.
This strategy has become known as the “Outside-In” approach in many policy circles, as it seeks to first bring detente between Israel and Gulf Arab powers and then resolve outstanding issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By bringing key Arab states and Israel together, the Palestinian leadership will feel pressure to abandon their long-standing intransigence and ultimately make peace with Israel. The “Abraham Accord” signed between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi is the first monumental breakthrough in the success of this strategy — and the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state since 1994 and only the third ever to be signed.
Many wonder how these former rivals reached the point of establishing diplomatic ties and laying the groundwork for a robust and promising bilateral relationship. One of the crucial elements was the quiet collaboration that grew after the Obama administration signed its Iran nuclear deal. This was perceived as a threat by both Israel and the Sunni Arab states, encouraging them to boost their cooperation behind the scenes. Only through cooperation could Iran’s hegemonic actions be contained as the regime financed terror proxies across the region and backed the Assad regime in Syria.
The Trump administration recognized this unprecedented level of cooperation and became determined to help foster these budding relations and contain the destabilization Iran was causing — destabilization that likewise threatened the United States.
Containing the revolutionary regime in Iran was not the only driving force bringing about this agreement and the gravitational pull toward a broader, regional rapprochement. For over 25 years, the Israelis and the Emiratis have been strengthening high-level business and security ties behind the scenes. The Journal highlights how the UAE has purchased high-tech intelligence software from Israel to thwart terrorist attacks.
Additionally, as we highlighted in our recent policy paper, Achieving Peace and Prosperity in the Middle East: How the Trump Administration’s Peace Plan is Shifting the Mid-East Paradigm, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change estimates that Israeli exports to Gulf Arab states are now worth north of $1 billion per year. Many such ties had to remain under wraps for security concerns. Now, with this milestone accord, conversations are underway to see a rampant increase in trade and investment into many more industries.
New frontiers discussed include high-tech, healthcare, energy, and security. Moreover, each country will establish embassies, appoint ambassadors, and arrange flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. This travel will enhance the ability for commerce to flourish, allow religious pilgrims from the UAE to visit Jerusalem, and permit Israelis to visit the wonders of the UAE.