Biden should build on Trump’s peace efforts

The momentum of the Abraham Accords must be sustained.

By Eli Epstein and Mike Holtzman

Published: Thu 17 Dec 2020, 11:49 PM

When it comes to foreign policy, President-elect Joe Biden will put in considerable efforts on reversing the ship of state of the Trump administration; Biden has already pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, revisit the Iran nuclear deal, and strengthen NATO, all of which Trump disavowed. But one aspect of Trump’s foreign policy that Biden should maintain, and even build up on, is the diplomatic breakthrough he achieved between Arab nations and Israel. The full and unconditional recognition of Israel by the UAE and Bahrain, and quite possibly soon, Saudi Arabia, are major achievements that will transform the security and stature of America’s key regional ally.

Arab diplomatic recognition of Israel seemed like a pipe dream for decades, and eluded past presidential administrations — Democratic as well as Republican. The last country in the broader region to recognise Israel was Jordan, way back in 1994. But the tumblers fell into place under Trump, including his mutual desire with Arab leaders to isolate Iran, his reflexive support and even kinship between with the right-wing Likud government in Israel, the visionary leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Trump’s personal fixation with high-profile “big wins”.

While embracing a singular Trump achievement may not play well with Biden’s Democratic base, which wants nothing less than a full-throated repudiation of Trumpism — it is nonetheless good for the country. Not only will Biden’s support help rein in regional allies, who clearly showed a preference for Trump — and can make things difficult for Biden for four years in hotspots like Lebanon, Syria and Iran — Arab solidarity with Israel will also help check Iran’s regional troublemaking, keep pressure on Tehran to renegotiate a better nuclear deal, and open new commercial and cultural opportunities that promote peace and stability in a historically fraught region.

Biden should quickly move to consolidate these relationships by appointing a Special Envoy for Economic Development in the region. Mutual economic growth through trade and technology transfer is the surest way to give each country a stake in the success of the other and to provide proof of concept to sceptics and holdouts in the region, like Qatar. The Envoy can facilitate the opening of respective economic and cultural offices, lead trade delegations between the GCC and Israel, promote scientific and technological exchanges, and preferential procurement policies that favour Israeli and US companies.

Biden should also use the diplomatic momentum in the region to bring Israel’s most-strategically proximate neighbour, Lebanon, to the table, pledging a hefty reconstruction budget in exchange for recognition of Israel and for marginalising the terrorist Iranian proxy group, Hezbollah. Lebanon is bankrupt and desperately needs international help; the dire economic situation and the large protests against the Hezbollah-controlled government could help bring Christian and Sunni factions to the table.

Biden’s team should hold its tongue. It is Trump’s prerogative to make new diplomatic overtures as a lame duck. A strong, unified Gulf Cooperation Council would be a good thing for America and people of goodwill everywhere. It would also be — thanks to Trump’s go-for-broke diplomacy — the first time in modern history that Arab unity is a good thing for Israel.

Holtzman served as an adviser in two Presidential Administrations and was Director of Public Affairs at The Council on Foreign Relations. Epstein is a businessman and prominent interfaith activist who serves as a Member of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

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