No big surprise to hear this. Not to go overboard with biblical references, but the writing has been on the wall since the Arab League stiffed Mahmoud Abbas in an unprecedented rejection of the Palestinian Authority’s agenda. Sunni Arab nations made it clear last week that they had tired of the Palestinian cause and had decided to chart their own course instead. After watching the UAE and Bahrain move the world’s most entrenched Overton window, the other Arab nations in the Middle East are champing at the bit to normalize relations with Israel.
In fact, “five or six” more countries may soon join the accord, according to Donald Trump:
President @realDonaldTrump says five to six additional countries will be "coming along" for more peace deals:
"You're going to see a lot of very great activity. It's going to be peace in the Middle East." pic.twitter.com/mp6QPLbjsG
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) September 15, 2020
Who might be the other five or six? Egypt and Jordan already have their own peace accords with Israel and have normalized relations decades ago. It won’t be Syria, for obvious reasons, and Hezbollah would block any sort of deal in Lebanon, for equally obvious reasons — although their existence as an Iranian proxy might be wearing out their welcome in Lebanon, especially after the Beirut port catastrophe.
Who does that leave? The Saudis will likely want to go last or close to it in order to give Abbas some remnant of leverage, but he’d better use it quickly. Trump explicitly declared this morning that the main point of the Abraham Accord was to force the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution as the permanent outcome, and not merely as a stage before Israel’s annihilation:
President Donald Trump acknowledged Tuesday that his administration’s brokering of recent normalization agreements between Israel and Arab nations was part of a broader diplomatic effort to pressure Palestine into negotiating a peace deal.
The remarks from the president came in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” after he was asked whether his Middle East strategy was to force the Palestinians to come to the table by mediating new pacts such as the Abraham Accords — which will normalize diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“Yes, you could say that’s certainly a piece of it,” Trump said. “The ultimate piece is it’s good for us to have, and it’s good for Israel. But certainly that’s a piece of it. The Palestinians are very difficult to deal with.”
Assuming the Saudis stay on board as the carrot to Trump’s stick, who might go ahead of Riyadh? The most Western-friendly members are Tunisia, Qatar, Morocco, Kuwait, and maybe-maybe Oman, which does a fairly good tightrope between the US and the Iranians. Algeria has too much of a radical-Islamist problem to jump at normalization, as does Sudan and Libya. But once we get past Kuwait and Oman, the rest of these nations matter less. Saudi Arabia is really the end game, both for Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinians, or at least Hamas, offered their usual answer:
Incoming message from Palestinians: rocket launches on Israel right now. https://t.co/Bl3rUmmILi
— Shalom Lipner (@ShalomLipner) September 15, 2020
Assuming this is corroborated, consider this more of a response from Iran. They’re getting isolated by this momentum in the Arab League, and they want everyone to know they’re not happy. However, all this does is remind the rest of the Sunni Arab nations that the Palestinians have allied themselves to Tehran, which is likely to accelerate the process of cutting the Palestinians off.
As Jeff Dunetz writes, the key to these accords was a recognition by this administration that the Palestinian question was window dressing. What the Arab nations wanted was leadership against Iran, and Trump provided it:
Trump correctly figured out that many of the moderate Arab States were tiring of the Palestinians refusal to even try to make peace. They were tired of having to carry the Palestinians and were already dealing with Israel behind the scenes. The ones already working with Israel were the Sunni-led states like UAE and Bahrain (and the Saudis), because of their fear of Shia Iran. …
Trump correctly figured out that the moderate Arab States were tiring of the Palestinians refusal to try to make peace. Thus, the UAE peace deal was ripe for negotiating and breaking the ice. But it wasn’t a one-off. It was the result of a long term strategy of a President who thought out of the box, and once the ice was broken, more countries would follow. In the month since two countries agreed to the deal, UAE companies have already begun to work with Israeli ones. As more states make peace with Israel and reap the economic benefits of making peace with her strong multi-faceted economy, it becomes easier for other countries to join in, and the pressure on the Palestinians to make peace builds. In the end, if they don’t join in soon, they will be left behind.
That’s one reason why Benjamin Netanyahu floated the idea of annexation, too. That gave the UAE a negotiating point to provide them political cover for the deal. Netanyahu gave it up, but all that meant was a continuation of the status quo; as Stephen Green repeatedly pointed out, Netanyahu got these deals for literally nothing.
In the end, Abbas will be left with no one except Iran and Hezbollah, and the latter can’t sustain a war against Israel with their new alliances in place, especially when their credibility is already so low in Lebanon. Either he cuts a deal or the Palestinians will be left to twist in the wind.