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[Prefatory Note: responses to Murat Sofuoglu’s of TRT questions (IX/21/2020) on UAE/Bahrain normalization. It will be important to distinguish the immediate gains for Netanyahu and Trump from middle-term impacts that will not likely be evident for several months. Some speculation suggest that normalization in the form of the so-called Abrahamic Agreements goes beyond an acknowledgement of an Israel’s existence, but moves toward affirming Israel’s right to establish a Jewish state in an Arab society.]
- Do you think UAE-Bahrain normalisations with Israel are further dividi.ng the Arab world and the Middle East?
Yes, I think the willingness to endorse these normalization agreements in the White House setting was a dramatic expression of identification with Trump’s regional diplomacy in the Middle East and a formalized repudiation of Palestinian aspirations for a sustainable peace based on their inalienable right of self-determination. It also confirmed an acceptance of relations with Israel on the part of these Gulf monarchies on the basis of their self-interests, including arms acquisitions and U.S. diplomatic support, while abandoning the earlier Arab consensus on withholding normalization until the Palestinian have their own state with its capital in Jerusalem.
- Will Saudi Arabia eventually normalise relations with Israel?
My assumption is that Saudi Arabia is waiting to see whether there are any adverse reaction to the moves made by UAE and Bahrain. Of special concern to Riyadh is whether there is any serious anti-regime activism in Saudi Arabia or the countries that took the normalization steps. It may also be the case that the MBS will await the death of the king, and his own succession, before making such a move. The outcome of the U.S. election in November could be a factor working in either direction: early normalization to help Trump; deferred normalization to avoid alienating Biden or if it seemed as though Trump would lose the election.
- What kind of the Middle East would you envision after the UAE-Bahrain deal with Israel?
It should be kept in mind that the normalization agreements were preceded by a decade of extensive cooperative arrangements between Israel and these two Arab states. However, the agreements might also be intended to send a message to Iran that such an alliance is now robust enough to counter any further Iranian regional expansion, and as a warning to reduce profile in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon or face the consequences. There is also a Turkish dimension, which seems intended to express the priority accorded by these governments to reconciling with Israel even if it means greater distancing from Turkey.
The Turkish dimension requires further analysis, but becoming so explicit about normalization send a signal that these Arab monarchies are prepared to side formally with Israel despite their opposition to Turkish diplomacy–normalization with Iran, support for Palestinian rights, and low profile relations with Israel (while Israel pursues back channel anti-Turkish, anti-Erdogan initiatives with the objective of marginalizing Turkey in ME, Europe, and the United States.