Opinion |

Trump Is Hoping for a Mideast 'Peace Bounce.' He Won't Get It

When they go to the polls, most Americans won’t be thinking about a diminished Arab-Israeli conflict. They’ll be thinking about 200,000 dead, economic crisis and racial injustice

Daniel B. Shapiro
Daniel B. Shapiro
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Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu before participating in the signing of the Abraham Accords, the White House in Washington, D.C., September 15, 2020.Credit: SAUL LOEB - AFP
Daniel B. Shapiro
Daniel B. Shapiro

The White House ceremony had all the hallmarks of a historic breakthrough.

Israeli flags, side-by-side for the first time with those of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Moving speeches, citing passages from scripture, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. An emotional crowd on the South Lawn. Journalists from the Middle East reporting it to their audiences back home on a minute-by-minute basis.

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The agreements signed between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain could well transform the region. Other countries may follow. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been diminished, if not ended. The day will go down in history as a meaningful achievement, if not much more.

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

But it will have considerably less impact where President Trump clearly hopes it will also make a difference: as a political benefit to his reelection campaign.

The timing, seven weeks before election day, was perfect. And portions of at least two communities with electoral significance — the Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities — are excited by the news.

The ceremony got news coverage, although more muted than in Israel. The morning newspapers will print the iconic photos. But the broader American public will not be thinking about Trump bringing Israel and its Arab neighbors together when they go to the polls. That is not what this election is about.

American voters are thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic — either the devastating toll, approaching 200,000 dead, exacerbated by the government’s egregious mismanagement, or how the economy, schools, college football, and other aspects of daily life can get back to normal.

They are thinking about the ongoing economic crisis. While unemployment is down, by some measures, including the plight of the long-term unemployed, whose benefits and savings have run out, and the threat of evictions and foreclosures — the worst is still ahead. 

They are thinking about the Black Lives Matters protests, whether calling for a reckoning on systemic racism in America, or rallying to support the police and worrying about violence in the streets. This week, they are thinking about climate change, as California burns and a parade of hurricanes sweeps across the Atlantic.

And they are thinking about whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump has the better answers to these problems. Trump tries to highlight achievements and promote a sense of normalcy, as was evident by the largely mask-less members of his administration at the ceremony. Biden describes the election as the most important of our lifetime, and a battle for the soul of the nation.

In this environment, even historic Arab-Israeli agreements will not stay on most Americans’ minds long. Already by Tuesday night, the modest coverage of the ceremony was giving way to Trump making news with fumbling answers to questions from voters at an ABC News townhall, and Biden making plans to give a speech on prospects for a coronavirus vaccine.

Something big for the Middle East happened at the White House yesterday. But its impact on American politics will be small.

Daniel B. Shapiro is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017. Twitter: @DanielBShapiro

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