A step toward Middle East peace

US President Donald Trump listens to Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on Sept. 11. Trump announced Friday a “peace deal” between Israel and Bahrain, which becomes the second Arab country to settle with its former foe in the last few weeks. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sept. 24:

PITTSBURGH (Tribune News Service) — The status between Israel and Bahrain is no longer ambiguous.

Less than a month after the United Arab Emirates forged a peace agreement with the Jewish state, the Kingdom of Bahrain followed suit. Representatives from all three countries were on hand at a White House ceremony on Sept. 15 to celebrate the new Abraham Accords Declaration.

In a region that will soon produce young Emiratis and Bahrainis who are fluent in Hebrew, Israeli graduates from UAE and Bahraini universities, and regular commercial flights among all three countries — with airspace now open over Saudi Arabia — there is no longer a unified Arab world against Israel. Further, this is the first time that an Arab state or organization has used the term “Jewish people” in a peace deal.

Is peace then with the Saudi kingdom — the most important player in the region — a fait accompli? Following the UAE agreement, the Saudis reiterated their position that normalization with Israel is conditional on a peace deal with the Palestinians, whose future was not addressed in the Abraham Accords.

This did not go unnoticed in the Gaza Strip where, on the day of the signing, militants fired rockets into southern Israel, or in the West Bank, where they burned photos of President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE leader Mohammed bin Zayed. The Palestinians also recalled their ambassador from Bahrain.

How to reconcile the Palestinian goal of an independent state in Gaza and all of the West Bank with Israel’s goal of a less-than-independent Palestinian state in Gaza and most of the West Bank? How to reconcile Israel’s desire to maintain a unified Jerusalem as its capital with the Palestinian desire of an East Jerusalem capital? These questions were not broached on the White House lawn, but they remain at the core of the region’s longest-lasting dispute.

Trump said the Palestinians would join the agreements “at the right time.” His administration’s approach thus far has simply been to circumvent them. As Arab states are normalizing ties with Israel, in exchange for large arms deals with the U.S., the Trump administration hopes enough pressure will be put on the Palestinians to make a deal with Israel.

Trump may not have the opportunity to see if this strategy works, but negotiating Arab-Israeli peace has been the president’s most-lasting foreign policy achievement to date. By bringing together U.S. allies to establish embassies, exchange ambassadors and develop diplomatic relations, the president demonstrated that the path to peace in the Middle East will rely on consistent American facilitation.

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