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Israel and the United Arab Emirates

Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a historic peace deal on 13 August 2020 that will lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern nations in an agreement that U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker. The announcement made the UAE the first Gulf Arab state to do so and only the third Arab nation after Egypt and Jordan to have active diplomatic ties to Israel. Under the agreement announced by the US President Donald Trump on Thursday, Israel said it has agreed to "delay" the annexation of Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank, but the plan "remains on table".

Trump tweeted a statement from the countries, acknowledging the deal. He then told reporters in the Oval Office that it was “a truly historic moment". “Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

The agreement came after a phone call 13 August 2020 between Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi. "This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region," said the joint statement.

For Israel, the announcement came after years of boasting by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his government enjoys closer ties to Arab nations than publicly acknowledged. Netanyahu has sought to build settlements on lands sought by the Palestinians and embraced a Trump proposal that would allow him to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank while granting Palestinians limited autonomy in other areas. The agreement gives Netanyahu a domestic boost at a time when Israel’s shaky coalition government is plagued by infighting and facing the possibility of early elections in the coming months.

For the UAE, home to skyscraper-studded Dubai and the rolling, oil-rich sand dunes of Abu Dhabi, it further burnished its international campaign to be seen as a beacon of tolerance in the Middle East despite being governed by autocratic rulers. It also put the UAE out first in a regional recognition race among neighboring Gulf Arab states.

And for the Palestinians, who long have relied on Arab backing in their struggle for independence, the announcement marked both a win and setback. While the deal halted Israeli annexation plans, the Palestinians had repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalise relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.

A joint statement from the US, the UAE and Israel was issued immediately after Trump's tweet. It said delegations would meet in the coming weeks to sign deals on direct flights, security, telecommunications, energy, tourism and healthcare. The two countries also will partner on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi joined the chorus of approval: "I read with interest and great appreciation the joint statement between the United States, the brotherly United Arab Emirates and Israel concerning the halt of Israel's annexation of Palestinian land." British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the normalization of relations between the two states, as well as Israel's decision not to annex parts of the West Bank. "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," Johnson said.

Not everyone greeted the news positively. The Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, described Thursday's development as "a reward for the Israeli occupation's crimes,'' said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. "The normalization is a stab in the back of our people.''

The UAE relied on white-collar Palestinians in creating its nation. Over time, it maintained its stance that Israel allow the creation of a Palestinian state on land it seized in the 1967 war. But in recent years, ties between Gulf Arab nations and Israel have quietly grown, in part over their shared enmity of Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Prince Mohammed also shares Israel’s distrust of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the militant group Hamas that holds the Gaza Strip.

By 2009 the UAE was increasingly hostile to Iran, but there remained a question as to how far they were prepared to go. The UAE had extensive trade and financial relations with Iran, including money laundering, and it was unclear whether they were ready to use these relations as leverage. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdallah had developed good personal relations with Foreign Minister Livni, but the Emiratis are "not ready to do publicly what they say in private." It was clear that Israel's channel to Saudi Arabia does not run through the Foreign Ministry.

The Gulf Arabs believed in Israel's role because of their perception of Israel's close relationship with the U.S. but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran. Arabs long said that progress on the Palestinian track would make it easier for them to publicly engage Israel. The UAE believes that supporting Abu Mazen and the Palestinians politically and financially is in its self interest, and will continue to do so.

For years now, the UAE adn Israel had enjoyed a close relationship, but the Gulf state has been reluctant to make it official. Abu Dhabi’s notorious surveillance operation relies on software sold to it by Israeli companies, and the pair have common foreign policy stances on supporting the dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el Sisi in Egypt and countering Iranian influence in the Middle East. There has also been limited diplomatic exchange between the states with Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev visiting Abu Dhabi in 2018 for a trip that included a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Regev had previously shared a video in which Israeli football fans mock Arabs with the chant "may your village be burned", a reference to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the Nakba of 1947 and 1948.

It's no secret the UAE has been seeking closer ties with Israel for years due to shared interests in quelling democratic movements across the Middle East as well as the long-standing issue of threats coming from Iran. There is copious evidence to suggest a process of normalisation is occurring despite no formal diplomatic relations between the two states.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 17:42:12 ZULU