The roll of modern trios linked in Middle East history by the title “peacemaker” has expanded to three: There was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter in 1978; Jordan’s King Hussein, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Bill Clinton in 1994; and, in 2020, we have Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump.
Sadat and Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. Rabin received the same recognition in 1994, sharing it with his Israeli partner in peace, Shimon Peres. Incredibly, King Hussein was ignored and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also honored that year — though the latter would ultimately refuse a comprehensive accord that would have made a Palestinian state a reality two decades ago. On both occasions, the Norwegian Nobel Committee ignored the key roles of the American presidents. This year, the prize should be shared three ways, and Oslo’s tradition of snubbing U.S. leadership in the region’s peace deals ended.
Others may soon join the UAE’s crown prince, who is known as MBZ, Netanyahu and Trump in preferring peace, trade, investment and travel to endless standoff and bitter wars. The kingdoms of Bahrain and Oman are said to be close to joining the UAE in a peace deal with Israel. Saudi Arabia may not be far behind as its rulers consider the long-term interests of the region and the world. Even the Palestinian Authority, full of angry words Thursday, must see the endgame. If the Nobel committee is truly seeking to encourage — and not merely applaud — peace, it would keep one thing in mind: that which gets rewarded gets repeated.
“MBZ gained huge status in the Arab World” because of the accord, a senior National Security Council official told me on Thursday. “Everybody who should be upset is upset,” the staffer said while discussing reactions to the historic accord between the UAE and Israel. “There is nothing but good here for Israel and the Emiratis.”
The official confirmed for me the complexity of negotiating efforts. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated his special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, as his key aide on the deal, and national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien relied on his staff’s active-duty and retired officers, and former military attaches — including Army Maj. Gen. Miguel A. Correa, retired Army Col. Rob Greenway and retired Navy Capt. Mark Vandroff — to work the deal. Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner has been the prime mover of Trump’s general peace plan, and Kushner’s key man has been the young Harvard lawyer Avi Berkowitz. David M. Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, nursed the accord along in Jerusalem, as his counterparts in Washington — Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and UAE Ambassador Yousef al Otaiba — met repeatedly to discuss details large and small. All of this was done in secrecy, and the allegedly leak-filled Trump White House stayed buttoned up.
Abroad, the director of Israel’s spy agency, Yossi Cohen, made many trips to the Emirates to push forward on the first Middle East peace deal in a quarter-century.
So many moving parts, so many players. Peace, of course, is never easy. To reach the U.S. achievement at Camp David in 1978 took the surprise attack against and near-defeat of Israel in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, followed by feverish diplomacy from President Richard M. Nixon and Henry Kissinger in its aftermath, and five years of bipartisan effort. Trump has pushed for peace in the region since being sworn in as president. Contrary to critics’ carping, his bold steps to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to back Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights pushed peace along, proving that the conventional wisdom of Beltway national security elites had grown stale and destructive.
When Otaiba, the UAE ambassador, warned against Israel’s exercise of formal sovereignty over West Bank lands, he stressed the great benefits of a peace accord between the Gulf states and Israel: “Greater security. Direct links. Expanded markets. Growing acceptance,” the ambassador wrote. “This is what normal could be.” And now, that is what it is. Bravo to all involved.