The other day, a large box was delivered to my door. When I opened it, there was only a tiny item in the large box.
Donald Trump called the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a "HUGE breakthrough." But like the package at my door, when you unpack the deceptive packaging, there’s not much in the box.
For Israel, the agreement contains the promise of a new found liberty to make peace plans with Arab countries without addressing the Palestinians and the ability to go on occupying the West Bank with UAE approval. For the US, the agreement contains the bonding of two anti-Iran allies in the middle east and lots of money in arms sales. For Trump, it also contains what appears by the packaging to be his first foreign policy achievement in four years. For the UAE, the agreement contains access to US stealth fighters and to Israeli tech and security companies. For the Palestinians, the box contains nothing but the stuffing that protected the things the other three parties got.
Unpacking the box, here’s five things that aren’t in the agreement.
1. It’s Not a Peace Plan
For two countries to sign a peace plan, they had to have been at war: or at least not to have been at peace. Carter negotiated a peace plan between Egypt and Israel. But Trump did not negotiate a peace plan between Israel and the UAE because Israel and the UAE have never been at war. The UAE has never been involved in a war with Israel. They have long been at peace, and they have long had relations. During a February 15, 2017, Trump and Netanyahu gave a press conference. Trump announced his commitment "to working with Israel and our common allies in the region." Netanyahu clarified that those common allies were "our newfound Arab partners." But that was three years ago. One of those partners was the UAE. And Netanyahu had publicly hinted at that partnership at the UN three years earlier in September of 2014.
2. It’s Not New
Trump announced the normalization of relations as a new beginning, as a huge breakthrough. But there is nothing new or huge about it. Israel and the UAE have for a long time been engaged in commercial and security ties. According to Rashid Khalidi, professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, the UAE’s air defense system and missile defense system are manufactured in Israel. They are made by Raytheon, which is an American company, though they are largely made in Israel. In July, two Israeli defense companies signed agreements with an UAE tech firm that works in artificial intelligence. And, even before full normalization of relations, senior Israeli officials had visited the UAE for a number of years. Reporting by UPI in January of 2012 had already revealed that the UAE had “discreet ties with private security companies in Israel to protect its oil fields and borders.” They report that ties between the UAE’s Critical National Infrastructure Authority and several Israeli companies may go back to as early as 2007.
3. It’s Not a Promise to Cease Annexation of the West Bank
The mainstream media says it is. But it’s not. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed boasted to the world that he had won the Palestinians an end to annexation. But while he was telling the world that “An agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” Netanyahu was telling Israelis that “There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States.” And, to punctuate his point, he added the exclamation mark that he would "never give up our rights to our land". During a televised address, Netanyahu declared that he is still “committed to” annexation and insisted that annexation of 30% of the West Bank, as set out in Trump’s peace plan, is “still on the table.”
The package promised a "stop" to annexation. But the packaging is deceptive. What’s inside the box is much smaller than the promise of the box. The text of the agreement says, not "stop" but "suspend." Trump and Kushner did not ask Netanyahu to stop the annexation of 30% of the West Bank promised in their middle east peace plan. According to a senior Israeli political source, the Trump administration asked only "that we temporarily postpone declaring [sovereignty over parts of the West Bank] in order to achieve the beginning of this historic peace agreement with the Emirates." The Israeli source then added the reassurance that "annexation is still on the agenda, and that Israel is committed to it."
Jared Kushner confirmed that version of the demand when he would say only that the Trump administration won’t give the go ahead for the annexation "for some time." How long is "some time"? Trump defined "some time" as "right now it’s off the table" and added that "I can’t talk about some time into the future." American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman was a lot clearer: “The word ‘suspend’ was chosen carefully by all the parties. ‘Suspend,’ by definition – look it up – means ‘temporary halt.’ It’s off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently.”
4. It’s Not a New Suspension that Pushes the Annexation Further Off
And even the promise of a suspension of annexation is nothing new for the Palestinians in the package. The annexation was already suspended. Yisrael Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, confirmed on Israeli media on Sunday, August 16 "that the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank was already suspended before the announcement of a deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE)." Then he alluded to the big box the deal was packaged in: "presenting the agreement as related to [the annexation] is more suitable to all Arab countries".
The annexation originally planned for the beginning of July was already suspended due to unprecedented pressure against Israel. And the pressure came from many fronts: some unexpected. So grievous a violation of international law would the annexation be that several officials and bodies have taken the unusual step of confronting Israel. UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called the planned annexation a violation of international law and warned that “the UK will not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines.” The EU rejected the annexation plan and went so far as to warn that “it could put the relationship between the EU and Israel in jeopardy.” The foreign ministers of France and Germany also independently warned of consequences to bilateral relations with Israel. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, declared that “Annexation is illegal. Period.” And UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said that “annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law.”
5. It’s Not Really Even a Promise to the UAE
The package may not even be deceptive for the Palestinians: it may be equally deceptive for the UAE. A meeting set to take place on August 21 between the UN envoys of Israel, the UAE and the US to officially celebrate the agreement normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE was suddenly canceled by the UAE. More threatening to the agreement still is that the UAE has announced that it will also suspend other high level meetings with Israel (at least someone is suspending something!).
The UAE thought that normalization of relations with Israel would open the door to access to US military supplies including drones and, especially, F-35 stealth fighters. Kushner seemed to support that expectation when he said that the agreement "should increase the probability" of weapons sales to the UAE.
Though there seems to be no such clause in the published text of the agreement, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that "UAE Crown Prince and de-facto leader Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had demanded a clause be included in the agreement that would enable the Emirates to buy billions of dollars worth of F-35 fighter jets, drones and other advanced weaponry." The Israeli newspaper refers to a "secret clause" that Netanyahu signed off on. The New York Times contributed to the mystery when it revealed that the Trump administration has given classified briefings about the F-35 stealth fighters to the UAE military and that it has pressed the gas pedal on the sale of both the planes and drones to the UAE.
The UAE thought they had this promise when they entered into the normalization of relations agreement with Israel. But, just as Netanyahu denied what the UAE said about stopping the annexation, so he denied what the UAE said about access to F-35 stealth fighters. According to Netanyahu’s office, "The peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates does not include any reference to arms sales." The statement adds that "Netanyahu ‘was explicit in Israel’s opposition to the sale of F-35s and other advanced weaponry to any country in the Middle East” during a July 7 meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.’" According to reporting by Barak Ravid, Netanyahu went so far as to tell his security cabinet that he would bring his objections to the US congress.
Though the UAE was aware of Netanyahu’s reservations, they apparently "were under the impression. . .he would not air them publicly." It is fury over that betrayal that led the UAE to cancel all high level meetings with Israel.
So, even that promise to the UAE may not have been in the package. And, if that’s not in the package, as the canceled meetings threaten, there may be no package.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.