Analysis: UAE And Israeli Diplomatic Relationships

  • Abu Dhabi Crown Prince says the agreement will stop the further annexation of Palestinian land
  • Donald Trump brokered the deal and hailed it as a ‘huge breakthrough’

“Everybody said this would be impossible,” Trump said. “After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations. They exchange embassies and ambassadors and begin cooperation across the border.”

“I want I relay a message to the public of the UAE, first and foremost Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Zayed – Salam Aleikum, Shalom Aleichem (Arabic and Hebrew for ‘may peace be upon you’) and may peace be upon us.” Prime Minister Netanyahu said.

Back in October 2018, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev became the first Israeli to visit Abu Dhabi in an unprecedented official state visit.

(L-R, rear) US senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien clap for US President Donald Trump after he announced an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize diplomatic ties, at the White House, August 13, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
(L-R, rear) US senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien clap for US President Donald Trump after he announced an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize diplomatic ties, at the White House, August 13, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

She witnessed for the first time the Israeli national anthem being played at a judo tournament and later visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where she wrote “I wish a good life and peace for all” in Hebrew in the visitor’s book.

Regev, a former chief Israeli military spokeswoman, is known to Palestinians and critics for her more egregious statements, such as describing African migrants in Israel as a “cancer”, and calling on her government last year to revive its policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders.

UAE Israel
Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, right, shakes hands with Mohamed Bin Tha’loob al-Derai, President of the UAE Wrestling Judo and Kickboxing Federation in Abu Dhabi [File: Kamran Jebreili/AP news agency]

Her visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was a clear sign of the UAE working to push its covert relations with Israel out in the open.

Since Regev’s visit, the Israeli Communications Minister, Ayoub Kara, as well as Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz have also travelled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

“I will continue to work with the prime minister to push for the policy of normalization that we’re leading based on Israel’s capabilities in the issues of security, intelligence and different civil opportunities,” Katz said at the time of his visit in July 2019.

According to Adam Entous, a reporter for The New Yorker, the think-tank and government-backed Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research was established in 1994 for academic research but later “became a conduit for contacts with Israel”.

The think-tank was the perfect cover to establish Israeli communications, and was born out of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s (MBZ) desire to buy fighter jets from the United States in 1990, and had dreaded Israeli objections to the sale.

Sandra Charles, who was working for bin Zayed at the time and was a former official in the George HW Bush administration, arranged an off the record meeting between Emirati academic Jamal S al-Suwaidi – who later established the think-tank – and Israeli diplomat Jeremy Issacharoff. This led to then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to give the green light for the US fighter jets to be sold to the UAE, where a “sense of trust” was built between Israel and Abu Dhabi, Entous reported US officials as telling him.

Major Geopolitical Significance

Fast forward to now and the official announcement of Israel and the UAE’s formal relations on Thursday has followed through years of backroom talks and under the table meetings, analysts say.

The agreement, which was brokered by the US, is known as the Abraham Accord, and vows to work towards a “full normalisation of relations”. The UAE has become the third Arab country to recognise Israel, but unlike Egypt and Jordan, does not share a border nor has it fought any wars with Israel.

Subsequently, the agreement is “unlikely to have geopolitical significance, in the sense that it does not have a serious impact on the balance of power either regionally or internationally,” Mouin Rabbani, the co-editor of Jadaliyya, said.

Diana Buttu, a Haifa-based analyst and former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators, said the UAE did not agree to normalising relations with Israel because it needed to take back a part of its territory – such as in Egypt’s case with the Sinai Peninsula – or because they believe that peace is on the horizon.

“This is the UAE acting like they are doing us a favour and saying they are doing it for the benefit of Palestinians, but without ever actually asking whether this is what we wanted,” she said. “Thirty years after the Madrid talks, you have the world speaking on our behalf but still not talking to us.”

In a way, she added, this has “highlighted everything we already knew, the way the Arab leaders have always paid lip service to the Palestinian people”.

Bilateral Deals

In the coming weeks, UAE and Israel will meet to sign bilateral agreements on investment, tourism, telecoms, security, healthcare, culture, the establishment of embassies and other areas of “mutual benefit”.

Emirati officials have attempted to spin this agreement as being done in return for Israel to halt its annexation plan for the already illegally occupied West Bank.

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Hind Al Otaiba, the director of strategic communications for the UAE’s foreign ministry, tweeted the tripartite call between the US, Israel and UAE “resulted in an agreement to stop Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands”.

This echoed MBZ’s tweet that the agreement was reached to “stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories”.

Global Reaction

Nations, groups and individual stakeholders in Israeli-Palestine conflict react to UAE and Israel normalising relations.

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 so-called “Abraham Agreement”, announced by United States President Donald Trump on Thursday, secures an Israeli commitment to halt further annexation of Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank.

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.

Here is how other nations and the various stakeholders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reacted to the Israel-UAE deal:

United Arab Emirates

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, defended the deal. The decision by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayan to normalise ties with Israel reflected “badly needed realism,” he said.

“While the peace decision remains basically a Palestinian-Israeli one, the bold initiative of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed has allowed, by banishing the spectre of annexing Palestinian lands, more time for peace opportunities through the two-state solution,” Gargash said in a series of tweets.

“Developing normal ties in return for this is a realistic approach forwarded by the Emirates,” he said. “The successful decision is to take and give. This has been achieved.”

Jordan

Jordan said that the UAE-Israel deal could push forward stalled peace negotiations if it succeeds in prodding Israel to accept a Palestinian state on land that Israel had occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

“If Israel dealt with it as an incentive to end occupation … it will move the region towards a just peace,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a statement on state media.

Israel’s failure to do this would only deepen the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict and threaten the security of the region as a whole, Safadi said.

Safadi said the agreement must be followed by Israel ending any unilateral moves to annex territory in the occupied West Bank that “obstruct peace prospects and violate Palestinian rights”.

“The region is at a crossroads … continued occupation and denial of the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights won’t bring peace or security,” Safadi added.

Egypt

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a close ally of the UAE, welcomed the agreement.

“I followed with interest and appreciation the joint statement between the United States, United Arab Emirates and Israel to halt the Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands and taking steps to bring peace in the Middle East,” el-Sisi said on Twitter.

“I value the efforts of those in charge of the deal to achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Bahrain

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.

Oman

Oman said it backed the normalisation of ties between the neighbouring United Arab Emirates and Israel, and hoped the move would help achieve a lasting Middle East peace. 

A foreign ministry spokesman expressed the sultanate’s “support for the UAE’s decision regarding relations with Israel”, according to a statement on Oman’s official news agency.

Germany

Germany welcomed the “historic” deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The normalization of ties between the two countries “is an important contribution to peace in the region”, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the agreement between Israel and the UAE.

“The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalise relations is hugely good news,” Johnson said on Twitter.

“It was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and today’s agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East.”

France

France 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”.

The accord paved the way for a resumption of talks between Israelis and Palestinians with the aim to establish two states, he said, calling it “the only option” to achieve peace in the region.

Spain 

Spain welcomed the agreement reached to normalise relations between Israel and the UAE, hoping that “Israel’s commitment to suspend the annexing of parts of the West Bank will become permanent,” read a statement released by the country’s foreign ministry. 

“Spain hopes that this agreement will contribute to regional peace and to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Palestine, with a view to the establishment of two states living in peace and security, based on international parameters to achieve a fair, lasting and mutually acceptable solution for the parties.”

United Nations

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, said he hoped the normalization 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.

“The secretary-general will continue to work with all sides to open further possibilities for dialogue, peace and stability,” the spokesman added.

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