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Good News for the Gulf and Israel Mean Bad Tidings for the Palestinians

Israel's normalization of relations with the UAE and Bahrain is transactional, not transformative. The breakdown of the Arab consensus on Palestine is the really historic change - and it doesn't bode well for the Palestinians

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Watching the hoopla on the White House South lawn as Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministers of the UAE and Bahrain signed an accord pledging normalization of relations, one could be forgiven for thinking Middle East peace was just around the corner. 

Twenty-seven years ago this week, I remember that same feeling on that same lawn watching Clinton, Rabin and Arafat sign the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Declaration of Principles, which for the most part now lies broken, battered and bloodied. 

This article is part of a series: Ten experts break down the Israel-UAE-Bahrain accords. Read them all here

Such won’t be the fate of these normalization accords. Israel’s peacemaking with Arab states in the suburbs is a far easier and less complex affair than unpacking relations between Israelis and Palestinians who are in actual onflict, with overlapping claims to territory and holy places, and living on top of one another.  

Proximity, Ben Franklin once quipped, breeds contempt – and children. Indeed, relations between Israel and the UAE are likely to develop faster than with Egypt or Jordan. I’ve attended five or six signing ceremonies; and the participants in this one were relaxed and easy-going, with none of the nervousness and awkwardness of some of the others. 

What concerns me is the emerging sense that what has been accomplished is much more than a transaction, and presages a transformation that will somehow make resolution of the Palestinian issue easier to manage, if not resolve. 

Nobody should trivialize the importance of what’s been achieved. We may well be witnessing the breakdown of the Arab consensus on the issue of Palestine, where a few Arab states, maybe more, will continue to support the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, even while they cut their own separate deals with Israel. 

Yes, Arab states may have some leverage over Israel as a result. But no Israeli Prime Minister – certainly not Netanyahu – is going to agree to make concessions on the Palestinian issue he’s sought to avoid, because of pressure from the Arabs. And Palestinians aren’t likely to abandon their positions which, like Israel’s right now, aren’t compatible with the other.   

Indeed, if anything, the more Arab states that sign on to normalization, the more the notion that peace for peace or peace for airplanes will take root, leaving Palestinians unrequited and the Israeli-Palestinian problem unresolved.   

Aaron David Miller is a Senior Fellow  at the Carnegie Endowment and a former State Department Middle East analyst and negotiator in Republican and Democratic administrations. His latest book is "End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President" (St. Martin's Press). Twitter: @aarondmiller2

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