Trump’s Peace review: The long road to the Abraham Accords and Middle East diplomacy

Barak Ravid recounts the story behind the complex agreement, supported by captivating anecdotes

From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former US president Donald Trump, Bahrain's former foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, after the September 2020 signing. AFP
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Nearly three years ago, on September 15, 2020, the signing of the Abraham Accords on the White House lawn – between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, overseen by then president Donald Trump, a month after they were announced – was arguably among the most significant moments in a decade for the Middle East and North Africa.

Barak Ravid’s well-written book Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and The Reshaping of The Middle East, released in English in May, is a fast-paced tale about how this diplomatic coup came about – and also very nearly didn’t because of the antics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One chapter is aptly titled “The Rollercoaster” and at times the narrative is nail-biting stuff.

A seasoned journalist, working for American news website Axios and Walla! News in Israel, Ravid regularly breaks exclusives about regional geopolitics and has an extensive network of contacts across the region and Washington DC. Still, he writes the Abraham Accords were a career-defining event. Having previously covered Israel’s attempted overtures to Arab countries, Ravid is well placed to tell this story, particularly as he interviewed Mr Trump in April 2021 at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida for the book.

As well as detail on the anatomy of complex diplomacy and the intricacies and history of the Middle East, Ravid’s book provides many insightful anecdotes, including the revelation that Mr Trump holds a lot of animosity towards Mr Netanyahu, feeling the latter has not been sufficiently grateful for the former’s support for Israel during his time in office.

Interestingly, Mr Trump says he liked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas very much after a meeting at the White House, which ended in “hugs and kisses”. The former American leader also paints a picture of his foreign policy role as being one of contrarian, able to defy expectations and make seemingly impossible deals.

“My whole life is deals. I’m like one big deal,” Mr Trump boasts, adding that he knew within “three minutes” that Netanyahu was uninterested in a deal with the Palestinians. The experience was instructive for Mr Trump in terms of the nuances of the conflict, Ravid writes. Mr Trump felt comfortable making moves many advised him would not and had not worked in the past, paving the way for US support for a peace deal between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel. However, Ravid writes Mr Trump would have preferred the accords be named after him.

The energetic role of Jared Kushner, special adviser and son-in-law to Mr Trump, is another recurring one throughout the book. From falling well short of a “deal of the century” to make peace between the Palestinians and Israelis in 2019, to the very end of Mr Trump’s foreign policy journey – notably bookended by the January 6, 2021, Capitol riots – Mr Kushner was criss-crossing the Gulf and the Middle East, seemingly always with the influential US official Avi Berkowitz by his side.

Ravid also charts the historical build-up to the successful signing of the accords, including the consequences of the administration of Barack Obama agreeing to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Israel and Gulf countries believed did not properly address Tehran’s threat in terms of ballistic missiles and destabilising activities through proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region.

With an incoming president Trump, trust levels could be restored after the 2016 elections and this created new opportunities for America’s traditional allies and gave some impetus for outside-of-the-box thinking that led to the accords.

Controversy about the accords stems not only from those who contend the agreement has undermined decades-long efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also because of the personalities involved, chiefly Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu. They remain polarising figures at best and are both the subject of criminal proceedings in their own countries, despite their continued impact on domestic politics. Those who support the impact of the accords, as Ravid’s book explains in detail, are adamant that without the agreement, Mr Netanyahu would have annexed the West Bank, a move which had the potential to trigger a new wave of violence that would have created region-wide instability.

What is certain from the book, however, is how the US was instrumental in the delivery of the accords, perhaps pushing back against the argument in recent years that it has sought to diminish its role in the Middle East.

Overall, the conclusion may simply be that America’s presence is evolving and with it regional relationships and alliances – which bodes well for a more stable future, especially if we look at the developments that have occurred since the signing of the accords, including the mending of Saudi Arabia-Iran ties and attempts to bring Syria back into the Arab fold.

After reading Ravid’s story, there is a persuasive argument to be made that the Abraham Accords at least set a fresh precedent for the success of diplomacy after years of hot and cold conflicts, putting the region on a different and perhaps more hopeful path.

Updated: June 17, 2023, 7:02 AM