By Amir Oren
David Dadon is hardly a household name in Israel, or anywhere else. A rather obscure Foreign Service officer, a former Ambassador to Jordan and several Latin America posts, Dadon may be confused with two other emissaries with similarly sounding names who happenned to have served in New York in recent years, Consul General Danny Dayan and United Nations Permanent Representative Danny Danon. Dayan, Danon, Dadon, Danny, David – one can be forgiven for needing a moment to sort out who’s who.
Yet when President Donald Trump is hosting Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini officials for a White House celebration September 15, it is worth noting that while definitely positive and promising, the normalization of relations between the two Persian (or Arabian) Gulf Oildoms and Israel is neither unprecedented nor foolproof. French General Pierre Bosquet will always be known for his observation, as the British Light Brigade charged into certain massacre, “C’est maginifique, mais c’est ne pa la guerre”. A magnificent ceremony does not make peace where there was no absence of one. What has transpired over the last month or so is conditions-based, fragile and reversible.
Enter David Dadon and does his claim to fame in the annals of Israeli diplomacy. In the 1990’s, he headed Israel’s legation in Rabat, as a de-facto Ambassador to Morocco. It was during the heyday of the Oslo process, when the Israeli-Palestinian 1993 Declaration of Principles was followed by the 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, paving the way, and legitimizing in the Arab and Moslem (i.e., Indonesia) worlds the establishment of relations with Jerusalem – or at least Tel Aviv.
While Dadon was stationed in the Moroccan capital, his colleague, Shalom Cohen, had a similar position in Tunis, though there his official title was as the head of the economic legation. In both cases, official representation reflecting formal relations, though less than fully Ambassadorial. This is not unprecedented in diplomatic history. James McDonald is remembered as the first American Ambassador to Israel, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, following President Harry Truman’s swift recognition of the brand-new state. Yet for the first months of his mission to Tel Aviv McDonald’s title was only “special representative of the United States”. The legation was later accredited as an embassy, thereby also enabling Israel’s emissary to Washington D.C., Elihu Elath, to step up from “minister” to “ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary”, as diplomats love to be presented.
When President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1933, famously ended 16 years of American refusal to recognize the Soviet Union, it was not “peace” between Washington and Moscow, as there was no war to end (though there was some American aid to the Whites against the Reds in a minor part of the Russian Civil War), merely a realistic re-calibration of relations.
And if the exchange of ambassadors equals peace, then the UAE cannot lay claim to be the third Arab country to sign peace with Israel and Bahrain will not be the fourth. Leaving aside Lebanon, with its stillborn May 1983 peace agreement forced on it by Israeli-American pressures and aborted by stronger Syrian-Soviet ones, there was a member of good standing of the Arab League who followed Egypt and Jordan in launching full diplomatic relations with Israel – Mauritania. This African country, a hardship post for Israeli diplomats, was yesterday’s Emirates, but a poor cousin to the Billionaires from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. For several years it also took part in NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, along with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
These North African countries constitute The Maghreb, the Western part of the Arab world (Libya, too). Israel was interested in them, most especially in Morocco, because of the Jewish communities there, going back to the last years of French Colonial rule. Since the early 1960’s there was a growing relationship between the security and intelligence services of Israel and Morocco, enabling Mossad to evesdrop on Arab Summit meetings and later leading to the Begin-Sadat breakthrogh by hosting Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan for preliminary talks. At the same time, Morocco was also the venue for secret U.S.-PLO talks.
The focus has shifted from the Maghreb to the Mashrek, or East, when the dominant Western power withdrew from the Gulf. It was Britain, which folded its “East of Suez” empire for lack of will and resources. In the early 1970’s, independence was given to, or claimed by, territories such as The Trucial States (which became the UAE) and Bahrain. They, along with the neigborhood economic giant who was and still is militarily weak, Saudi Arabia, needed protection. The Americam idea was to encourage the Shah to become the Guardian of the Gulf, especially against Iraqi designs, but the Islamic Revolution forced the U.S. to position its own forces in the region, establish Central Command and lead coalitions into two wars against Saddam Hussein and numerous operations as Iran became the most dangerous adversary (with the temporary addition of Daesh).
Thus, to the combination of Oslo-era opening of overt relations of anti-Saddam, anti-Ayatollah Gulf countries with Israel and the necessity of American protection, for the preceding 20-30 years, was most recently added a personal and political factor – President Trump’s. He wants to sell arms to the Gulf, he wants to be known as a peacemaker (if not Korea or Palestine, let it be the UAE), and most of all he wants to use these two efforts to be re-elected in seven weeks.
There is nothing wrong, per se, in trying to use the levers of power for one’s advantage, provided it is also in the public interest, and of course legal. Timing is of the essence. President Johnson wished to have impressive progress in his Paris talks with North Vietnam, in the run-up to the 1968 pitting his Vice-President Humphrey against Republican candidate Nixon, and for the very same reason but from the opposite direction Nixon worked to delay it. Ahead of Israel’s latest elections, Binyamin Netanyahu wanted Trump’s help in unveiling his Vision for Peace plan allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank (and downplaying the demand that in return an independent Palestinian state would rise and be compensated by parts of Israel proper). Now, as Netanyahu lays the ground for yet another Knesset campaign, the fourth in two years, he joins candidate Trump in hoping to reap the electoral benefits of peace-making.
So far, so good, but it is not nearly as good as advertised. Israel was not suddenly given a free ticket to a flight to the Gulf – it bought the ticket at Oslo and is now merely being upgraded from Economy to Business, space available permitting. It is done because Trump is collecting debts when he most needs the cash. UAE? IOU.
The problem with such moves is that they are not certain to survive the elections – these are the international equivalents of campaign pledges. Come Trump’s second term, or Joe Biden’s first, the fine print in the accords could loom large and thorny, as it is coditional and therefore reversible. The connection to progress on the Palestinian front is rock solid, and if Israel uses its influence on Capitol Hill to resist arms sales to friendly Gulf countries, they could retaliate by reverting to less openly friendly.
Several times in Israel’s history events have set back similar achievements. After the 1967 war and the occupation of lands seized from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, African countries, including Moslem ones helped by Israel and displaying friendship towards it, such as Chad, broke relations with it under pressure. In 1980, when Israel enacted a Basic Law annexing East Jerusalem (which up to then was only held according to an amendment to a municipal jurisdiction ordinance), European and Latin Anerican embassies fled West Jerusalem. And when Palestinian violence in late 2000 was met by lethal military measures, the diplomatic advances of Oslo in Morocco and Tunisia were rolled back, though Israeli travellers, especially in groups with watchful security, are still welcome. If the Palestinan track is still frozen, a year from now, formal relations with Gulf countries could be on thin ice.
For Netanyahu, who ignores Morocco snd Mauritania and all the other fruits of Oslo, it is important to claim that by diligently working for 25 years, he has now broken new ground by getting “peace for peace”. Just like no-fault divorce, but with marriage. Something for nothing – who, especially a bargain-minded Israeli, could be against such a deal?
Sounds too good to be true, and it is. Egypt has been the locomotive of peace, because it has gotten its Sinai back to the last inch. The cars following the engine are nice to have, but not existencial, because without Egypt Israel can have no peace, and with it there can be no war, in the full catastrophic sense of invading armies and bombing air forces, only skirmishes with irritants the like of Hezbollah and Hamas.
For his normalization with the UAE and Bahrain, Netanyahu did give up territory, though one not yet in his pocket – the annexation he bragged about. And he prefers to skip over the Hussein-Rabin peace agreement, which essentially was peace for peace, as Jordan disengaged from the West Bank in the late 1980’s. Yet there, too, was one territorial clause, intended to be forever delayed in chunks of 25 years apiece – sovereign Jordanian areas (Naharaim and Tsofar) held by Israel and rather than returned, leased to it. But last year, following a series of incidents in which Netanyahu enraged King Abdullah, as in his first term in the 1990’s he did Hussein, Jordan announced that subject to further review it will retake the areas, making it peace for territory after all.
It is not all Netanyahu’s fault, as there are strong hostile elements in every Arab country whose regimes dared sign peace or normalization with Israel, but when there is progress, attitudes are much more positive. Regrettably, most of the time there is neither peace nor process, and the remationship between governments, except the military-intelligence-security axis confronting common enemies, is formal to the point of being stiff. One remembers a visit to the Israeli embassy in Amman, when David Dadon, fresh from Rabat, was the Ambassador. He frankly recounted the reality of living under siege, with Israeli diplomats and their security detail leaving their families back home every Sunday morning to drive in well guarded convoys from Jerusalem to the Jordanian capital, driving back each Thursday night to rest over the weekend from the threats and discomfort, far from the glowing speeches heralding peace. Magnificent, maybe, a matter of taste, some people love Sword Dances in Arabia. Peace? That’s a term better saved for sworn enemies agreeing to put down their swords.