By Annisa Essack
The Abraham Accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates promises to establish normal relations between the two countries which include business relations, tourism, direct flights, scientific cooperation, and, in due course, full diplomatic ties at the ambassadorial level.
Importantly, Israel and the UAE reportedly already have security ties, but this component of the Abraham Accord, enhances security cooperation against regional threats, especially from Iran and its proxies bring them into the open. The recent Israeli-Emirati declaration will affect more than the two nations themselves. Its impact is likely to be felt across the entire Middle East.
According to the Emirati government, the accord “immediately stops” the Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank, providing an opportunity for Palestine and Israel to renew negotiations. The Israeli officials, however, use the word “suspend.” The difference in language reveals that the UAE, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed feels compelled to demonstrate that normal relations with the UAE were not cost-free for Israelis. The use of the term “suspend” is an effort to appease pro-annexation political groups, that have already criticized the agreement.
Both countries have been moving toward normalising their relationship recently. Israel opened a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi in 2015, and senior Israeli officials have visited Abu Dhabi; Israeli athletes have participated in regional competitions in the UAE. Israel is set to participate in Dubai’s World Expo 2020, which is now scheduled to open in October 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When Israel did not begin the process of annexing the West Bank territory on July 1 as Netanyahu had indicated, the Emiratis reportedly took the opportunity to promise full normalisation of relations if annexation was taken off the table. The US administration in sympathy with the strong Israeli desire to widen the country’s formal diplomatic relations with Arab nations in the Persian Gulf, seized the opportunity to oversee the three-way diplomacy that resulted in the Abraham Accord.
The Palestinian leadership rejected the accord and recalled its ambassador from Abu Dhabi, despite the Israeli promise of halting annexation. The Palestinians and their supporters feel that the agreement reflects bad faith on the part of Israel, the UAE, and the United States since the Israelis and Emiratis had been normalising ties even before the Abraham Accord. The criticism is not unwarranted.
Israel has shown little interest in negotiations with the Palestinians as it tightens its grip on the West Bank with Egypt’s’ help in maintaining a tight cordon around the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has significantly curtailed aid to the Palestinians, moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and produced a peace plan that Palestinians regard as grossly unfair to their national aspirations and rights.
Leaders in Ramallah regard the normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel as an indication that Abu Dhabi has betrayed the Palestinian cause. The Emiratis, on the other hand, do not want to palm off their national interests to an ineffectual and corrupt Palestinian leadership. Any expectation of new negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is misplaced.
Whilst Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Oman publicly welcomed the Abraham Accord. Saudi Arabia has remained silent. Analysts speculate that the silence is a sign that MIB supports the agreement but the king, opposes normalisation with Israel. Turkey has threatened to withdraw its ambassador from Abu Dhabi as it joined Iran, Qatar, and civil society organisations throughout the region remain steadfast in their opposition to normalising relations with Israel.
Bahrain, in the Gulf, is the country most likely to support the UAE as King Hamad has overseen steps toward normalisation, including allowing Israeli officials to attend a regional security meeting in the country. Additionally, the Israeli foreign minister has met with his Bahraini counterpart and his predecessor.
Netanyahu met with the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat in late 2018, which could see Oman support the UAE in its bid to normalise relationships with Israel. However, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq could act more cautiously regarding relations with Israel as he consolidates his power. In Africa, Morocco and Sudan might also seek to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.