Creating new perspectives since 2009

Priorities are changing in the Middle East, with fewer temptations to normalise with Israel

November 20, 2020 at 9:27 am

The flags of US, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are projected on the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City on September 15, 2020 in a show of support for Israeli normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images]

On 13 August, Joe Biden said that he welcomed the normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE, believing it to be a historic step that helps ease tension and the deep divisions in the Middle East. The now President-elect described the UAE’s recognition of the State of Israel as a welcome and courageous act, and stressed that the Biden-Harris administration will seek to build on it.

Moreover, there is no sign that the incoming Biden administration will try to evade the basket of advantages that accompanied these agreements (Bahrain and Sudan have followed the UAE’s lead), politically and militarily. Although Tony Blinken, Biden’s chief political advisor, acknowledged that the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE gave the impression that it was a kind of “trade-off” for normalisation, he did not suggest, or even hint, that the Biden administration will stand against this deal.

Although Biden is expected to encourage Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman to normalise their relations with Israel, other factors will affect this path.

Initially, he will have to face the domestic challenges within America, including the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 243,000 US citizens, while addressing its economic consequences. Coupled with this is the knock-on effect of the election in terms of civil unrest, as well as ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. There are still sharp divisions in US society.

Normalisation with Israel. Who's next? ... - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Normalisation with Israel. Who’s next? …
– Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

However, normalisation with Israel was born in the context of two specific goals: to proceed with the “deal of the century” and to confront the perceived common enemy, Iran. It does not seem that a Biden administration will be willing to accept such goals and the detailed mechanisms to achieve them pursued by the Trump administration.

Biden, remember, affirmed his support for the Arab Initiative and rejected Israel’s annexation policy. He is keen to establish a “stable” Palestinian state while ensuring Israel’s security.

The attitude will be similar in his policy towards Iran. Biden is likely to have a new understanding and new process for dealing with that particular file. He may not succeed in reproducing the results of President Barack Obama’s term in office, but he will certainly not be as confrontational as the current president is.

The combination of these factors and variables will impose a new reality on the Middle East and its conflicts. Will normalising relations with Israel still be attractive to Riyadh, Doha and Muscat? With priorities changing in the Middle East, there will be fewer temptations to normalise with Israel, so why would any other states want to proceed?

READ: A return to collaboration over Israel’s security narrative 

This article first appeared in Arabic in the New Khaleej on 19 November 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.