Last week, Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced a deal: The Arab state would formally recognize Israel in exchange for Israel halting annexation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. This followed a public invitation by the UAE ambassador to Washington, Yusef al-Otaiba, a highly respected diplomat and a good friend of mine.
The ambassador laid out the deal in clear, respectful language. The U.S. administration of President Donald Trump helped coordinate the details, building on work that presidential adviser Jared Kushner has been facilitating as part of the larger (and thus far unsuccessful) push for an overall peace deal. Reflecting earlier work by the Bush and Obama administrations to bring the Arab and Israeli sides together, it is an important bipartisan step toward Israeli-Arab rapprochement that may in time bear significant fruit.
Throughout my tenure as supreme allied commander of NATO, I came to know Israel well. I became particularly close to the head of the Israeli Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and his deputy commander, then-Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz. Both remain important figures in Israeli politics. Indeed, the first phone call between the UAE and Israel, on Sunday, was conducted by Ashkenazi and his counterpart in the UAE. Gantz, who went on to command the IDF, is now alternate prime minister in a shaky coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu. Benny (as even junior officers called him when he wore stars on his shoulder) is also the minister of defense.