The UAE finally normalises ties with Israel: What does this mean for Palestine?
UAE officially normalizes ties with israel
Israel and the United Arab Emirates have reached a deal to normalise relations, with Israel agreeing to suspend its controversial plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. In a surprise statement by US President Donald Trump, who helped broker it, the countries called the accord “historic” and a breakthrough toward peace. The United Arab Emirates has become the first Gulf Arab country to reach a deal on normalising relations with Israel, capping years of discreet contacts between the two countries in commerce and technology.
The deal came after a phone call between United States President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
However, addressing reporters later in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he agreed to “delay” the annexation as part of the deal with the UAE, but the plans remain “on the table”. The UAE is also the third Arab nation to reach such a deal with Israel, after Jordan and Egypt.
Until now Israel has had no diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab countries. But shared worries over Iran have led to unofficial contacts between them. Palestinian leaders were reportedly taken by surprise. A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal amounted to “treason”, and the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE was being recalled.
Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit.
As part of the deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, each country will base an embassy in the other country’s territory. Additionally, to connect the countries, direct air links would need to be established. Emirates and Etihad, as the home carriers in the United Arab Emirates.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan expressed their deep appreciation to President Trump for his dedication to peace in the region and for the pragmatic and unique approach he has taken to achieve it.
The UAE and Israel have in the past years quietly been improving ties and increasing economic and geopolitical cooperation, largely due to a common enemy in Iran as well as mutual economic interests.
There was a recent hiccup in relations when Israel announced its latest annexation plans. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the US has warned Israel against annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, saying the move would “upend” Israel’s efforts to improve ties with Arab countries. In a rare appeal to the Israeli public by an Arab official, Yousef al-Otaiba, said on Friday that the move would be an “illegal takeover” of land Palestinians seek for a state.
This warning is telling, as Israel’s relations with the UAE have particularly improved in recent years. Last month, Netanyahu announced an agreement between the Israeli and UAE health ministries to work together on battling COVID-19. The Emirati response was more muted, saying only that two of its companies would collaborate on research. Furthermore, now under construction in Dubai is an Israeli pavilion for next year’s World Expo, a project that would have been unimaginable five years ago when most ties with the Jewish state were under the radar out of concern it would undermine the Palestinians.
In addition to this, the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, is highly invested in Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, which the Palestinians summarily rejected. It is clear, therefore, that although the UAE voiced its concern, it is not likely to take action against Israel should the latter proceed with its annexation plan. Similarly, there has been no significant opposition voiced by the other Gulf nations regarding the plan.
Saudi- Israel ties have been growing in recent years and since the take over of Mohammed Bin Salman as ruler of Saudi Arabia, growth of relations has accelerated. The most recent development highlighting the coming down of a historical barrier between the nations is the latest comments of the Muft of Saudi Arabia, who said while answering a question on a television program that fighting against Israel was inappropriate and said Hamas was a “terror organization” in reply to a question regarding July’s anger across the Israeli-occupied West Bank when Israel shut Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli communications minister has welcomed these comments, saying: “We congratulate Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, as well as the head of Ulema (Islamic scholars) for his fatwa forbidding the fight against the Jews and forbidding to kill them.” The minister also invited the mufti to visit Israel, which would be another stepping stone in relations.
The role of Iran in bringing Israel and Saudi Arabia and the UAE is undeniable, as it has served as a source of common interest for the nations. Iran’s opposing role to Saudi and the UAE in the Yemen war has been the biggest factor in helping Saudi put its differences with Israel aside. In May, Iran even acknowledged this, accusing Riyadh of “sowing division” in the region to Israel’s advantage after the kingdom hosted summits of Gulf and Arab leaders to rally support against the Islamic republic.
The latest move to formalize diplomatic ties therefore does not come in a vaccum and has been building up for a long time.
Global reactions and implications for Palestine
The global reaction to the latest historic deal has been largely positive, however, there have been several negative responses, largely coming from the Palestinian camp.
The Gulf state of Bahrain welcomed the accord between the UAE and Israel, state news agency BNA said. The small island state of Bahrain is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which has not yet commented on the agreement. Bahrain praised the United States for its efforts towards securing the deal.
Iran strongly condemned the agreement between Israel and the UAE to normalise ties, calling it an act of “strategic stupidity” that will only strengthen the Tehran-backed “axis of resistance”. The Iranian foreign ministry denounced the deal as an act of “strategic stupidity from Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv”. “The oppressed people of Palestine and all the free nations of the world will never forgive the normalising of relations with the criminal Israeli occupation regime and the complicity in its crimes,” a ministry statement said.
Turkey said history will not forget and never forgive the “hypocritical behaviour” of the United Arab Emirates in agreeing a deal with Israel to normalise relations. The Palestinian people and administration were right to react strongly against the agreement, the foreign ministry said. “History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behaviour of the UAE, betraying the Palestinian cause for the sake of its narrow interests,” it said in a statement.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the agreement between Israel and the UAE. “The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalise relations is hugely good news,” Johnson said on Twitter. France also welcomed Israel’s decision to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank under the historic agreement, calling it a “positive step”, Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement, adding that the suspension “must become a definitive measure”.
Meanwhile, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, said he hoped the normalisation of ties between Israel and the UAE can help realise a two-state solution with the Palestinians. “The secretary-general welcomes this agreement, hoping it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realise a two state-solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.
Contrarily, Palestinians strongly condemn the trilateral agreement earlier announced between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, a Palestinian National Authority (PNA) spokesperson said in a statement. “The Palestinian leadership announces its strong rejection and condemnation of the trilateral agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE, mediated by the United States,” the statement said. It also outlined that the PNA “views this step as an attempt to undermine the Arab peace initiative and the Arab League decision”, naming it “an aggression against the Palestinian people”. Hamas condemned the agreement, saying it does nothing to serve the Palestinian cause and ignores the rights of the Palestinian people.
The UAE peace deal with Israel is a “treacherous stab in the back of the Palestinian people,” Hamas said in a statement. Meanwhile, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) stressed that the deal shows a vast conspiracy against the Palestinian people.
The latest deal does not come at a time when Israel has improved its policy towards Palestine and the Palestinians. The Palestinian Colonisation and Wall Resistance Commission have confirmed that Israeli forces demolished 313 homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem during the first half of this year. The commission disclosed in a report that 64 per cent of the demolitions took place in East Jerusalem, Nablus and Hebron. According to the report, the Israeli authorities have issued 129 eviction notices requiring 737 Palestinians to temporarily vacate their homes and lands under the pretext of declaring them closed military zones, nature reserves or for the use of military training purposes. The commission has monitored 419 attacks by Jewish settlers during the first half of 2020, which resulted in physical injuries to 78 Palestinians and caused damages to 1,100 dunums of land, the burning and uprooting of more than 3,000 trees and material damages to 78 vehicles. Furthermore, Israeli soldiers demolished a Palestinian security checkpoint used to test for coronavirus in the occupied West Bank, according to Wafa news agency. The checkpoint was set up by Palestinian security forces at the entrance to the occupied West Bank city of Jenin to prevent the spread of the virus.
The deal is a worrying sign when looking at the Palestinian prospectives of external geopolitical help from their oppression, however it is positive when looking at increasing peace prospects between the UAE and Israel.