The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel have reached a US-brokered agreement to normalize ties, in exchange for Israel suspending its West Bank annexation.
The agreement — the Abraham Accord — makes the UAE only the third Arab country to take this step, after Egypt and Jordan, and the first Gulf country.
In a joint statement, the US, Israel, and the UAE said that the two Mideast countries will establish normal ties, signaling an exchange of ambassadors and more direct commercial relations, including air travel.
President Donald Trump called the deal “a truly historic moment.” He told reporters in the Oval Office, “Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates.”
UAE–Israel ties have been growing behind the scenes for several years, with one of the signs of improvement being the visits to Abu Dhabi by Israeli officials.
UAE–Israel ties have been growing behind the scenes for several years, with one of the signs of improvement being the visits to Abu Dhabi by Israeli officials, such as then Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev in 2018, and then Foreign Minister Israel Katz in 2019.
Sporting events have also helped achieve such normalization, such as Israel’s cycling team’s participation in the UAE’s World Tour. Israel was also expected to participate in the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, but the event has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In addition, there were signs of improvement during the pandemic. In May, the UAE flew a plane loaded with humanitarian supplies to Israel, marking the first known direct commercial flight between the two countries. The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency said the shipment was meant to curb the spread of coronavirus in “occupied Palestinian territory.” Although, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said the Palestinian Authority had not been consulted about the aid shipment.
In June, an Etihad Airways cargo plane landed in Israel again, carrying coronavirus aid from the UAE to Palestinians. Shtayyeh said he was unaware of this delivery too, casting doubt over whether the government would accept the aid. Also in June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a new partnership with the UAE to cooperate in the fight against the coronavirus, suggesting the pandemic has been used as a way to bolster UAE–Israel ties.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has framed the deal with Tel Aviv as one that halts the annexation.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has framed the deal with Tel Aviv as one that halts the annexation. “During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship,” he tweeted.
However, in a television address after US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had only agreed to “delay” the annexation, and that he would, quote: “never give up our rights to our land.”
“There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States,” Netanyahu said in Jerusalem, using the biblical name for the occupied West Bank.
Even Emirati ministers said that the UAE has no firm guarantees that Israel will not annex occupied Palestinian territory in the future.
Indeed, the Palestinians can be seen as the biggest losers from such a deal. At the official level, Secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee Saeb Erekat called for Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit to condemn the UAE’s normalization deal with Israel or resign. He stated that Palestinians should decide the fate of Palestine, stressing that this deal was a “stab in the back of the Palestinians.”
Although normalization is a natural result of improving UAE–Israel relations, it shows that some Gulf countries have abandoned their historical positions, once adopted by leaders such as Sheikh Zayed or King Faysal. It seems likely that more countries will proceed with a similar normalization step soon.
Of course, questions may be raised on how this normalization would impact the UAE’s relations with Iran.
“We warn the Emirates: Don’t open the region for the Zionist regime to step in.”
In a televised speech on July 15, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said, “We warn the Emirates: Don’t open the region for the Zionist regime to step in.” If the agreement leads to expanded Israeli influence in the region, Rouhani said, “Things will change, and they will be dealt with in a different way.”
The following day, Iran’s top military commander, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, said Tehran’s attitude toward the UAE will change fundamentally and that the armed forces “will also deal with that country with different calculations,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
In response, on July 17, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, tweeted: “The UAE–Israeli peace treaty is a sovereign decision not directed at Iran. We say this and repeat it. We do not accept interference in our decisions.”
Thus, it remains to be seen how the UAE, whose relations with Iran saw an improvement lately, can balance its relations with both Tehran and Tel Aviv.
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