Several days ago the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel have agreed to have diplomatic relations, with this being the third Arab nation to officially recognize Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. President Trump and his supporters are claiming that this is a great breakthrough to world peace, with Jared Kushner supposedly the key player on the American side. But most observers think that this is an exaggeration, to put it mildly. The standard summary is that this deal is a win-win-win-lose: a win for the US, UAE, and Israel, but a lose for the Palestinians.
Let me give the Trump people, including even the usually incompetent Jared Kushner, some credit. They have managed to achieve only a handful of international agreements. And given the long and difficult relationship between Israel and the Arab nations, it must be recognized that making such an agreement is difficult, so they deserve some congratulations, even if this is far less than what they claimed they were going to achieve, which was supposed to be a much broader agreement. But given the administration’s strong tilt to Israel from the beginning, supporting moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the annexation of the Golan Heights, and supporting a plan that would countenance annexation of territories in the West Bank, it is unsurprising that the Palestinians simply withdrew from any negotiations being pushed by the Trump administration. There simply was not going to be that more general agreement.
Of course we must admit that there is a sort of gain for the Palestinians: the UAE leadership demanded a cessation of the Israeli plans to annex West Bank territories, thus retaining a smidgeon of a chance for the nearly dead two state solution that supposedly came out of the Oslo Accord. Of course, Netanyahu says this is only temporary, and he retains the plan to do annexation. But that plan is now on hold. But this is a matter of the good thing being a matter of Israel not doing a bad thing that Trump and Kushner were supporting them in doing. This is not something to get too into praising about.
There is also the matter that there was a lot less input from Trump and Kushner to this outcome than they would have us believe. This deal has been in the works for a long time. Indeed, while he did not make a big deal about it and was ridiculed by the Trumpisti when he mentioned it, Biden and Obama did play a role in the early stages of this. The initial openings between the UAE and Israel date as far back as 2013 with more definite moves happening in 2015, with the top people in the Obama admin aware of this and encouraging it. From 2015 on there were Israeli businesses operating in the UAE, and the two have shared intel since from around then, if not earlier, mostly about Iran, whom they share an enmity towards. The key player on the UAE side has been its top leader, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) of Abu Dhabi. He is viewed by many as more important in Middle East matters than his junior sometime ally, MbS in Saudi Arabia. While these two generally work together mostly, they have backed different groups in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is apparently not likely to follow UAE on making an open deal with Israel, although rumors have Bahrain and Oman possibly doing so.
Will this deal lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians or peace between Iran and its regional enemies or even a major relaxation between Israel and the broader Arab world? Probably not, possibly even aggravating some of these. But it may reflect public acknowledgement of the reality on the ground.