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Middle East deal underscores foreign policy chasms in region

Cornell University
15-Sep-2020 11:50 AM EDT, by Cornell University

Sept. 15, 2020


On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump will host leaders of Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House in a ceremony to mark the normalization of relations between Israel and the two Gulf countries. The deal, which the Trump administration has described as a pivotal step towards peace in the Middle East, signals a shift amongst Arab countries, traditionally wary of siding too close to Israel.                                    

Alexandra Blackman, assistant professor of government at Cornell University, studies the Middle East, including politics of gender, political party development, the evolution of authoritarian institutions, and the role of foreign and transnational forces in the region.


Blackman says:

“The normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain further highlights the gap between the foreign policy of most Gulf states, which is guided by their enmity toward Iran, and the other Arab and Muslim countries that fear popular backlash to normalization more than they fear Iran. It will be interesting to see how the publics of the Gulf states react to these moves.

“With regard to U.S. foreign policy, what we are seeing is the end result of the Trump administration’s increased reliance on the Gulf states and Israel as partners in the region and the recognition by those leaders that they benefit more from Trump remaining in office than from a Biden administration. While a Biden victory in November is unlikely to change the broad contours of normalization with the Gulf states, we should expect a Biden administration to invest diplomatic efforts elsewhere in the region.”




Uriel Abulof is a visiting professor in Cornell University’s government department and professor at Tel-Aviv University.


Abulof says: 

“As the genius businessman he prides himself to be, Trump knows how to cut his losses. With the Palestinians refusing to embrace Israel while it annexes substantial parts of the West Bank, Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ is all but dead. The ‘deal of the day’ will have to do – making peace between Israel and its two neighbors in calling codes: UAE 971, Israel 972, Bahrain 973. President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the two monarchs are obvious bedfellows, with joint regional interest of combating political Islam, whether Sunni or Shiite.

“While the Gulf leaders seek to gain favors with the American administration before a new one may step in, Trump and Netanyahu want to leave their mark, and save their skin, the former before the election, the latter leading his country to a COVID-19 chaos and facing an impending trial for corruption. The pact demonstrates that the ‘democratic peace’ theory – democracies rarely fight each other – has an evil twin: the ‘non-democratic peace’ theory – illiberal leaders often back each other.”




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