Israel’s envoy to US: At least 2 more Arab states will normalize ties by January

Ron Dermer, ahead of his departure, says highlight of 7-year tenure in Washington was PM’s Congressional address bashing Obama-brokered Iran deal

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer addresses a Hanukkah reception at the Washington D.C. residence of Poland’s Ambassador the US Piotr Wilczek, December 3, 2018 (screen shoot:
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer addresses a Hanukkah reception at the Washington D.C. residence of Poland’s Ambassador the US Piotr Wilczek, December 3, 2018 (screen shoot:

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer predicted Friday that at least two more Arab states will follow the lead of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in normalizing ties with Israel in the coming months.

In an interview with the Jewish Insider news site, Dermer said Israel will sign “at least two more peace treaties” by the time he completes his seven-year tenure as ambassador on January 21.

US officials, including President Donald Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner, have also said they expect other Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel in the near future.

Dermer said this week’s peace signings had been the culmination of years of work by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US envoy recalled how when he first started working as an adviser to the premier nearly 20 years ago, Netanyahu showed him footage of a speech in which he highlighted his vision of “peace through strength.”

“To see this trajectory happen over 20 years now — against a lot of critics, cynics and opposition — I think is very gratifying,” Dermer said.

He said that for years Netanyahu had been “the lone voice, kind of in the wilderness,” who openly entertained the agreements that came into fruition this week.

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer presents his credentials to President Barack Obama at the White House, December 4, 2013. (photo credit: Twitter/Amb. Ron Dermer)

Dermer speculated that the normalization deals could have been reached earlier “if there was greater understanding and recognition among policy-makers and if they understood the opportunity,” in an apparent jab at the administration of former US president Barack Obama.

“A lot of people said, ‘Well, he’s just talking about this because he doesn’t want to deal with the Palestinians,’” Dermer said, in response to a recently dug-up 2016 clip of Obama’s secretary of state John Kerry asserting that Israel would not be able to normalize relations with Arab states without making peace with the Palestinians first.

“[But] of course it was real,” Dermer said.

“We were able to keep a very close hold among a really small number of people… That’s how we were able to break this out,” he said of his own strategy in Washington.

Dermer was optimistic that the peace treaty signed with the UAE will lead to a “warmer peace” than the agreements with Egypt and Jordan have produced. “There are many forces inside those societies — political, economic and cultural forces — that militate against that. I don’t see that in the case of the Emirates.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president’s guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Little love for Obama

He echoed remarks made by Trump officials in recent days that the latest developments could mark the “beginning of the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

As for the Palestinians, Dermer admitted that the Arab states making peace with Israel may not be able to bring about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but “it definitely weakens those who reject any kind of compromise or any peace with Israel,” he said.

In another dig at Obama, Dermer claimed there had been a “theory” in the the previous administration that creating “daylight” between the US and Israel would “achieve results.”

The ambassador pointed out how the latest agreements came after Trump had already made a series of gestures to Israel including recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, moving the US embassy there, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and unveiling “a peace plan that Israel can live with.”

He dismissed critics who have argued that those steps would make peace more difficult to achieve, saying the policies have “helped strengthen Israel and anchored our legitimacy in the region.”

“I think the chances of ultimately seeing an Israeli-Palestinian peace are much greater. I can’t tell you whether they will cross that Rubicon, but it makes it greater.”

Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer at the signing of the US-Israel military aid deal in the State Department on September 14, 2016 (Israeli Embassy, Washington)

On annexation freeze

Asked about Netanyahu’s decision to shelve his plans to annex areas of the West Bank as part of Israel’s agreement to normalize ties with the UAE, Dermer said the move had been a compromise with the Trump administration.

The Times of Israel reported that the Trump administration gave the UAE a commitment during normalization negotiations that Washington would not recognize Israeli annexation until 2024, at the earliest.

“What we said from the beginning… [was that we] were only going to go ahead with this plan with the support of the United States,” Dermer said.

When the Trump administration approached Israel with the opportunity for a normalization agreement, Dermer said Netanyahu was forced to decide between going ahead “against the wishes of the United States, without US support and sort of barrel ahead, or do I seize this historic opportunity, stand with the United States, get a peace treaty with the Emirates and get another and another and another — and actually, hopefully begin to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

“I think he made the right decision for the good of the country,” Dermer told Jewish Insider.

The Israeli ambassador to the US took pride in the fact that members of Congress from both parties have expressed support for the recent normalization agreements and expressed hope that they would continue “no matter who the American people entrust with being the next administration.”

US President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019 after signing the official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. From left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Career highlight

Asked for the highlight of his time in Washington, Dermer quickly cited Netanyahu’s 2015 joint Congressional address in which he warned against the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration had been in the midst of advancing.

Dermer had been involved in much of the behind the scenes work that led to the address, helping keep the matter a secret from Obama officials.

The ambassador referred to the speech as “one of the critical moments that most contributed to this breakthrough” with the Gulf states — many of whom align with Israel against Iran.

Dermer recalled saying at the time “that in 10 years from now or 20 years from now, people will talk about a breach of protocol in a speech because then I’ll know that Iran never developed nuclear weapons.”

“I feel that the US-Israel relationship is in a better place than when I took over, and I’m sure that my successor will bring it to the next level, because we are on this tremendous trajectory, and I’m sure he’ll do a terrific job,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress, Washington DC, March 03, 2015. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

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