By David Closson
On the final night of the Republican National Convention, President Donald J. Trump laid out his case for a second term. To conclude an optimistic and hopeful convention, the president reminded Americans of his most prominent accomplishments including pre-virus record unemployment and the elimination of the ISIS caliphate. But the president perhaps undersold one of his most consequential decisions: the historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates brokered earlier this month.
In the portion of his acceptance speech devoted to highlighting foreign policy achievements, President Trump painted a strong contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden. "When I took office, the Middle East was in total chaos," the president reminded Americans. "ISIS was rampaging. Iran was on the rise and the war in Afghanistan had no end in sight...Unlike many presidents before me, I kept my promise and recognized Israel's true capital and moved our embassy to Jerusalem...We also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. And this month we achieved the first Middle East peace deal in 25 years."
Although he did not dwell on it, President Trump's reference to the Middle East peace deal refers to the announcement on August 13th that Israel and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) had reached a peace accord. This accord will lead to the full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern countries in exchange for Israel suspending plans to annex parts of Judea and Samaria (often referred to as the West Bank). The U.A.E. joins Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab states to have normal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state; most Arab League nations continue to not formally recognize Israel's existence as a nation.
As President Trump explained at the time, the two nations will "exchange embassies and ambassadors, and begin cooperation across the board and on a broad range of areas, including tourism, education, healthcare, trade, and security." Because of the accord there is the possibility for direct flights, investments in technology, and opportunities for increased economic ties. Moreover, as Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers recently explained to FRC President Tony Perkins on "Washington Watch," the agreement deals a blow to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction) movement that seeks to delegitimate Israel on the world stage. As Rodgers noted, "This is a great counter to that [the BDS movement] to have the U.AE. recognize Israel.... [as] we heard our Secretary of State from Jerusalem say, this is a deal that our grandchildren will read about in our history books."
Four aspects of this agreement are worth noting. First, the deal represents a triumph for Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister. Since beginning his second stint as prime minister in 2009, Netanyahu has argued that Israel could build diplomatic relationship with Israel's Arab neighbors prior to settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Second, the accord signals a potentially significant political realignment in the Middle East. Since Israel's founding in 1948, the Muslim world has universally condemned Israel and expressed solidarity with Palestinians living in Israel. However, Sunni Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabi, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan now see Shiite-controlled Iran as an existential threat and see Israel as an ally against Iran and its proxies. As international observers have noted, the agreement may lead to other Sunni Arab nations following suit in aligning with Israel to combat their mutual enemy Iran.
Third, some pro-Israel Christians who recognize Israel's historic borders are concerned that the deal limits Israel's ability to exercise sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. While a peace agreement between the world's most volatile neighboring countries is always worth celebrating, there are still a few concerns. Up until the announcement of the accord, Prime Minister Netanyahu had promised to annex portions of Judea and Samaria that are central to Israel's history, which was consistent with the Peace to Prosperity plan released earlier this year. Those plans are now "suspended" as part of the deal with Emirates.
Thus, in light of the agreement, there are legitimate questions about how Israel's sovereignty over the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria will be affected long-term. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ambassador David Friedman have insisted that the suspension is temporary, but it remains to be seen if and when Israel will move forward with annexation. Netanyahu has claimed that the deal will result in other Arab nations normalizing relations with Israel, a prospect most Israelis would welcome. But as Tony explained, Israel will not always have a partner in the White House as supportive and sympathetic to Israel's unique security situation as President Trump, and it would be wise to make sure a timetable is in place in regard to annexation.
Fourth, brokering the peace accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is the latest effort by the Trump Administration to strengthen the relationship between the United States and its most important ally in the Middle East. As Congresswoman Rodgers noted, other significant actions include fulfilling the nation's long-standing promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, increasing funding for the Iron Dome, and removing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.
In short, mediating a peace deal between Israel and the U.A.E., who had publicly refused to recognize the Jewish state's right to exist, represents both a symbolic and meaningful step toward stabilizing a perpetually volatile region. It is possible that long after the 2020 election is over, the brokered peace agreement will prove to be one of the most significant foreign policy achievements of the Trump presidency. While only time will tell if the agreements holds, all Americans should be grateful for the president's efforts toward peace and pray for continued wisdom and guidance as future decisions are made regarding Israel's safety and sovereignty.