Nobel Peace Prize winners are, in truth, a mixed bag, but it is safe to say that few come with more flint than David Trimble. A law lecturer and politician who rose within the sectarian establishment in Northern Ireland, Mr Trimble made hard-hearted calculations to grasp the promise of peace in his homeland in the 1990s.
As a laureate he has now invoked his right to make a nomination for next year's peace prize. He has put forward the names of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is one facet of the growing engagement with the Abraham Accord, since the UAE and Bahrain's decision to normalise relations with Israel in September.
Mr Trimble privately cites how his own experience has shaped his thinking on the accord. He believes it can “break the logjam” that has accumulated from the decades-long, slow-burning collapse of the Middle East Peace Process.
This is unacceptable to Mr Trimble. As his citation for the prize stated, it is the factor of time that can weigh most heavily to prolong conflicts. “I know from my own experience how dangerous, damaging and corrosive are decades of violent ill will between two neighbours,” he said.
The Abraham Accord is the product of our time. It is doubtful it would have come so soon if it were not for the approach taken by US President Donald Trump vis-a-vis the Middle East. As one of Mr Trimble’s close associates said last week in a commentary on the Nobel prize nomination, peace does not come from virtue signalling but from hard-headed calculations around grasping practical solutions when they are available.
It is important to remember that the UAE has stressed its determination to support the Palestinian right to statehood and dignity.
As the officials around US President-elect Joe Biden have repeatedly stressed, there is no opportunity to turn back the clock to four years ago and proceed as if nothing had happened. It was then that John Kerry, America's top diplomat during former president Barack Obama's second term, said that there was no road to peace that did not lie through the Middle East Peace Process. But pursuing alternatives cannot be written off as people fooling themselves. In any case, Mr Kerry has been named climate change envoy in the incoming Biden administration, leaving it to others in a new State Department team under Antony Blinken to take on the Peace Process portfolio. Think tanks in Washington and elsewhere have said there is going to be engagement with the Abraham Accord when the new administration gets its policies for the region into sync in 2021.
For a start, the opportunity for peace between the people of Abrahamic faiths is about a cold entente under treaty deals. But it also comes to the world as a broader opportunity.
Another of Mr Trimble’s associates, the historian Lord Bew, convened a panel last week featuring the UAE, Bahraini and Israeli ambassadors to London to talk about the accord from their perspective. The audience got a first-hand briefing of all the strands of thought that the participants in the accord are bringing to the process. The idea that it would be a “warm peace” featured prominently.
Mansoor Abulhoul, the UAE ambassador to the UK, stressed that the opening for the strategic breakthrough stemmed, first of all, from the potential for annexation of the West Bank as the latest stage in the failure of existing initiatives. Furthermore, the shift in the paradigm has opened up space to work together on the pursuit of regional stability and fighting the spread of extremism and radicalisation.
At the point of impasse, it is reasonable to ask what the next 50 years will look like and how to build bridges to a future of prosperity and shared progress.
The UAE and Israel are two dynamic economies with plenty of shared interests. Co-operation in the fields of science and technology is already the focus of the joint exchanges. And it is fascinating to see this start to roll out.
In London, as the place of corporate deal origination, there is an uptick of interest on both sides to working together. The Israelis see the close ties between the UK and the Gulf countries as a key incentive of the normalisation promised under the Abraham Accord.
For Bahrain, the cultural tolerance it has tried to engender with Israelis has been a process more than a decade in the making. Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain's ambassador to the UK, underlined this by referencing the Peace to Prosperity Summit, which his country hosted last year and which provided the momentum for the accord.
The challenges stemming from Iran's bellicosity across the Arabian Gulf have been especially acute. But all sides agree that this is not an agreement that is defined in contradistinction with Iran. Indeed, in the fullest sense, if the Abraham Accord goes on to set the political and strategic weather in the region, it should provide an incentive for Tehran. The regime there could engage with regional change by seeing this as a platform for resolving differences.
Normalisation is, first and foremost, about the countries themselves – and it revolves around narratives of peace and prosperity. Dialogue and dynamism are the keys for it to succeed.
Damien McElroy is the London bureau chief of The National