The Art of a Mideast Deal

How would official Washington respond if a Democratic President brokered a peace deal between Israel and two Arab states? The papers would be stacked with play-by-plays of how the historic breakthrough was achieved and adulatory profiles of the people in the room. The hosannas to the President’s strategic vision would flow from think tanks and academia, if not also from Oslo’s City Hall.
The reaction Tuesday to the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House was more muted, and maybe that’s for the best. Some groundwork for the cascading thaw in Arab-Israeli relations was laid by a decade of shifts in the Middle East’s balance of power as Israel grew stronger, the Iran threat persisted, and the U.S. signaled its intention to draw down.
Yet the Trump Administration deserves credit for taking advantage of these strategic shifts, and for setting aside the failed conventional playbook for how Arab-Israeli comity could be achieved. The Abraham Accords, named for the prophet of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, are based on mutual interest. Mr. Trump has been criticized for a transactional view of world affairs, and we sometimes worry about how that will play out, for example, in East Asia. Yet in the Middle East, hard-headed transactionalism may have been what was needed.
American negotiators have tried for years to press the Israelis and Palestinians to give up something in a leap of faith and hope that peace will follow. Each side saw that as a lose-lose proposition. But peace between Arab states and Israel offered a win-win.
The most obvious benefit, besides strategic cooperation against Iran’s regional mayhem, is economic. Long-running Arab boycotts against the most dynamic economy in the Middle East have hurt investment and exacerbated the region’s poverty. As the Washington Institute’s Michael Singh notes, there should be opportunities for Gulf capital to flow into Israeli start-up companies—potentially displacing Chinese investment in Israel that has worried the U.S.