Something strange is happening in the Middle East. A virus is spreading: Peace. What? Yes, Donald Trump has managed – against all odds – to secure extraordinary bilateral peace agreements, one between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, and one between Bahrain and Israel. He has more coming. He just inked an accord between Serbia and Kosovo, and has Taliban leaders sitting with the Afghan Government. These are not small things.
History is won by inches. Patience, persistence, hope, and fortitude end wars, make peace, extinguish blood feuds, replace emotions – especially fear and hate – with reason and belief.
Having spent time in war-torn places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Colombia – and places that live under constant strain, from Israel and Jordan to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and yes, UAE and Bahrain – what Trump has managed to do is a big deal.
To be specific, after giving a stunning speech in 2017 – arguing peace was possible – Trump went to work. As important as any factor, Arab leaders and Israel believed him. They believed he was serious, would keep his word, get them to a higher state. That was step one. See, https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=trump+riyadh+speech&docid=608050120987511976&mid=0ECF05735E936E4724510ECF05735E936E472451&view=detail&FORM=VIRE.
Trump then began making real his commitments. He ended the Obama-Biden era of anti-Israeli ambivalence. America would stand with Israel – but expect give too. Trump did what no one had done, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – not Syria’s, moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, worked to architect a potential Palestinian State, premised on land swaps and security. Plans are just plans, but without plans action is impossible.
Next, Trump tried something new. He conceived of Middle East peace as a stage-wise process, but sliced stages differently. Where leaders for seven decades treated regional peace as all-or-nothing, a grand bargain over time, pursuant to small steps forward, Trump said “no.”
Instead, he conceived of the Middle East as a jig saw puzzle, individual pieces slotting together – two-by-two, until assembled into a unified whole. He understood that individual countries have individual interests. The region is not just Arabs versus Israel, Sunnis versus Shia, democracy versus autocracy, secular versus theocratic, rich versus poor, but 22 individual states.
Trump saw the region the way he sees countries, states, towns, and individuals – based on unique characteristics and circumstances, legitimate and defensible interests, self-defined and individuated. In short, he respected peoples as peoples – and began making bilateral deals.
That is a sea change. No president has done this, imagined the Middle East like Trump. The effect has been stunning. While narrow-minded, domestically preoccupied US media ignore Trump’s progress, he continues to make yardage – and he has the goal line in sight.
Following early speeches, Trump’s team began quiet negotiations – no hoopla – with individual Arab nations and with Israel. On August 13, 2020, after 18 months of closed-door effort, Trump announced normalization of relations between UAE and Israel. That peace deal, barely mentioned by liberal press outlets, broke the code. See, e.g., https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-secured-historic-deal-israel-united-arab-emirates-advance-peace-prosperity-region/; and https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/israel-and-uae-reach-historic-peace-deal-638524.
On September 11, 19th anniversary of the 9-11 horrors, Trump announced a second major bilateral deal – peace between Bahrain and Israel. Those two countries, like UAE and Israel, normalized relations. The deal was championed in a joint Bahrain-Israel-USA statement – as an “historic breakthrough in Middle East Peace.” See, e.g., https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/historic-breakthrough-trump-announces-bahrain-israel-peace-deal.
Last week, Trump spoke with Oman’s leadership, thanking them for praising the UAE-Israel deal – and discussing ways to move forward. See, e.g., https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/09/09/Trump-thanks-Oman-s-Sultan-Haitham-for-supporting-UAE-Israel-peace-deal; and https://www.msn.com/en-ae/news/other/uae-israel-peace-accord-trump-thanks-omans-sultan-for-support-of-treaty/ar-BB18RTr3.
Adding momentum to the near-viral spread of peace, talks are accelerating on possible bilateral accords between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar – facilitated by Trump’s team. Last week, Saudi Arabia welcomed Israeli planes over their airspace – a first. See, e.g. https://www.breitbart.com/middle-east/2020/09/04/after-saudi-arabia-bahrain-becomes-next-arab-gulf-nation-to-open-skies-to-israeli-planes/. Saudi reached to Trump seeking engagement on a “fair and permanent peace” for the Palestinians. The outreach was hopeful, unprecedented. See, e.g., https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-uae-deal-saudi-arabia-king-salman-fair-palestinian-solution-trump.
American media, as if last to awake, are slowly seeing – after dissing Trump for three years – that this has legs. Trump’s team has changed the dynamic. A window is opening to peace. Slowly thawing to Trump’s extraordinary instinct for deals, even the New York Times gawks.
Columnist Thomas Friedman called the UAE peace accord a “geopolitical earthquake,” adding “Just go down the scorecard, and you see how this deal affects every major party in the region — with those in the pro-American, pro-moderate Islam, pro-ending-the-conflict-with-Israel-once-and-for-all camp benefiting the most and those in the radical pro-Iran, anti-American, pro-Islamist permanent-struggle-with-Israel camp all becoming more isolated and left behind.” See, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/09/10/middle-east-peace-economy-space-travel-good-news-column/5739626002/.
Bluntly, he admits: “It was Donald Trump’s peace plan drawn up by Jared Kushner, and their willingness to stick with it, that actually created the raw material for this breakthrough… It will encourage the other Gulf sheikhdoms — Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — all of which have had covert and overt business and intelligence dealings with Israel, to follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead.”
Indeed, dice are falling – as Trump imagined. The region is assembling itself into a constellation of binary star systems, a puzzle that – as time passes – looks increasingly cohesive. Trump is proving that peace – across disparate actors – may be universally possible.
All this is good news, and enough for one week, one generation – or election cycle. But there is more. With cause, Donald J. Trump has been twice formally nominated – resulting from Middle East peace accords and the Serbian-Kosovo agreement – for the 2020 Noble Peace Prize.
In closing, if this election cycle has you on guard for hypocrisy, wondering how such news could blossom amid the rocky soil of this ill-begotten moment in American history, fear not. Biden is now claiming – bizarrely – that he is responsible for all this. See, e.g., https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/08/13/joe-biden-takes-credit-for-trump-peace-deal-in-middle-east/. Meantime, The Atlantic, not even seeking anonymous sources, says – since they cannot stop Trump’s nomination – Nobel Peace Prizes should be stopped. I kid you not. See, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/end-nobel-peace-prize/616300/.
So, for those who like seeing a good jigsaw puzzle come together – especially one that ends enmity and offers intergenerational peace – stand by. Trump is on it. For those who want to see left implode, as truth, justice, and peace root in the Middle East, you are in luck – stay tuned. For now, we can draw a breath in peace – as more are doing across the Middle East. Thank you, President Trump.