Ascribing the euphemism of peace to the formal normalisation of the relationship between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, and then the small island Kingdom of Bahrain with the occupation state, is an abysmal attempt to repackage Jared Kushner’s string of failures and Donald Trump’s obsession for a pseudo-achievement in a difficult election year.
Perched behind his desk on 13 August, the US President mispronounced the name of the de facto ruler of the UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed. Trump then proclaimed what he described as the first “Historic Peace Agreement” in 25 years. Archetypically of his self-aggrandisement, he declared that, “Everybody said this would be impossible…”
Everybody, that is, except perhaps Trump and Kushner, who had known about the UAE and Bahrain’s not so secretive back channels with Israel for months, if not years. In October 2018, the then Israeli Minister of Culture, Miri Regev, who likened the Islamic call to prayer to barking dogs, was welcomed in Abu Dhabi and toured Sheikh Zayed Mosque; Israel’s national anthem was played in the UAE capital. In June 2019, on the side of Kushner’s botched “deal of the century” peace conference in Manama, Israeli journalists posed openly next to landmarks around the Bahraini capital.
With a background in real estate, both Kushner and his father-in-law Trump came from an industry imbued with apathetic market manipulators who inflate values in order to sell, and undervalue assets to buy. Such a culture moulded Kushner’s personality at a young age. Most of his recognised successes in business are accredited to twisting the arms of economically distressed property owners and the evictions of low income renters in New York.
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The same knack that gave Kushner an advantage in the world’s financial capital was in itself the very reason for his abject failure in brokering peace between Palestine and Israel. Ironically, however, the same has led to the superficial success of the normalisation of relations between two Arab states and Israel.
In the first instance, and despite reading “twenty-five books” on the Palestine Israeli issue, Kushner flunked the test. He failed because he employed New York techniques and misconstrued the seventy-plus years of grievance for an opportunity to coerce the economically distressed Palestinians to accept a bad deal.
The “peace plan” was prepared by Jason Greenblatt, Avi Berkowitz and David Friedman, and presented by Kushner, all bona fide American Zionists. Kushner and Friedman are major donors subsidising illegal “Jewish only” colonies over the same occupied Palestinian land slated for negotiations in their plan. Besides the obvious conflict of interest, Kushner and company are ideologically incapable of being objective intermediaries.
On the second occasion, Kushner’s approach succeeded because his Arab counterparts were susceptible to New York street pressure and had a large deficit to reconcile with the Trump administration. Unlike his predecessors, Trump reminded the Arab Gulf royals bluntly that US protection was the only legitimacy that they have to maintain their DNA-controlled ruling dynasties. In October 2018 during a campaign stop, Trump told Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, “You might not be there for two weeks without us.”
Following the CIA conclusion that Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammad, had ordered the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, Trump shared a practical example of his role when he bragged in a recorded conversation with famed Post investigative journalist Bob Woodard how he saved the Prince’s “ass”.
While a Saudi payback would have been the preferred option to temper Kushner’s list of failures, typically for a New York real estate loser he settled for a diminutive faux peace between parties that had never actually been at war with each other.
The formal normalisation of the back channels is the product of a symbiotic relationship between Trump and Arab Gulf royals. Having mismanaged Covid-19 and resultant economic crises, Trump despaired for an election boost, perhaps a stunt to gain favour with pro-Israel voters in swing states like Pennsylvania and Florida.
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Gulf royals, on the other hand, fear a new administration whereby US Congress could reopen the CIA findings on Khashoggi’s murder, vote to halt US arms sales to their regimes and investigate Amnesty International reports asserting Saudi-led war crimes in Yemen.
Fear in the Gulf and election anxiety in Washington crafted the opportunity for a mediocre accord between Israel and two Arab rulers lacking valid popular legitimacy.
This week, Kushner stands to celebrate another faux achievement. After three and a half years, he has produced a molehill where he promised mountain of a deal. To paraphrase a well-known Arabic proverb: after long and arduous birth pangs, the camel gave birth to a mouse.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.