ISRAEL-UNITED ARAB EMIRATES PEACE TREATY: A SIGN OF THINGS CHANGING FOR THE BETTER IN THE MIDDLE EAST

0
739

Israel and the United Arab Emirates have always had a lukewarm relationship with each other until the 2010s. Then recently, the countries’ informal relations warmed considerably and they engaged in extensive unofficial cooperation based on their joint opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and regional influence. In 2015, Israel opened a politician deputation in Abu Dhabi to the International Renewable Energy Agency. The two nations announced in August 2020 that they are establishing full diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal that required Israel to halt its plan to annex parts of the West Bank. Until August 2020, there were no direct flights between Israel and the UAE, so all air travel had to transit through a third country (such as Jordan); however, the two countries have agreed to initiate direct flights between their airports. Considering the fact that Middle Eastern Arab countries and Israel have a long and bloody history of antagonizing each other, it’s important to understand how exactly this peace treaty came to be.

THE IRAN ISSUE

After the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009, the Israeli and UAE ambassadors to the U.S. made a joint appeal during a meeting with the incoming administration’s Middle East adviser to urge a tougher U.S. line on Iran. Obama lifted sanctions on Iran after signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the JCPOA. Obama lifted sanctions on Iran after signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the JCPOA. The JCPOA, also referred to as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reached in Vienna on July 14, 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany) together with the European Union.

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu met with the Foreign Minister of the UAE, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in New York, in September 2012. Despite finding cause for agreement in assessing Iran as a growing threat, diplomatic efforts came to a standstill due to an unwillingness on the part of UAE to publicly improve Israel-UAE relations until progress was made in the Israel-Palestine peace process. In the twilight months of the Obama administration, American intelligence got wind of telephonic communication between Israel and the UAE, including between Netanyahu and a senior UAE official, and a meeting between Netanyahu and the UAE leadership in Cyprus, which focused on cooperation against Iran.

After the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, both Israel and the UAE lobbied for a rapprochement between the United States and Russia to contain Iranian influence in Syria. In June 2017, leaked e-mails revealed that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were cooperating with Israel against Iran. Closer relations were established between the UAE and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a pro-Israel, neoconservative think tank also known for its influence on the administration of US President Donald Trump, in order “to find ways of hampering Iran’s ability to engage in business activities with major companies around the world”.

UAE HOSTILITY TOWARDS ISRAELI NATIONALS

The United Arab Emirates did not recognize Israel as a nation and as such, denied entry to people with Israeli passports – Israeli citizens or those suspected of being Israeli citizens, including Israeli passport holders. However, third party nationals with Israeli stamps or visas in their passports were allowed entry. There were no direct flights between Israel and the UAE, so all flights had to stop over in a neutral country, and no Israeli aircraft did not have permission to enter UAE controlled airspace. Restrictions were enforced even more strictly against the entry of Israeli citizens following Mahbouh’s assassination in Dubai, which was blamed on Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. The UAE also has a history of denying entry to Israeli sport-persons like Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er, who was denied entry in February 2010. She was ultimately unable to play at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

In spite of the travel restrictions and the embargoes, there are Jewish expatriates living in the UAE, and there are Israelis holding dual citizenship who live, visit, and work in the UAE as citizens of other countries. Some Israeli companies conduct business in the UAE indirectly through third parties.

THE ABRAHAM ACCORD – A NEW HOPE

On August 13, 2020, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, announced the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel saying that his country wanted to deal with the threats facing the two-state solution, specifically annexation of the Palestinian territories, and urging the Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table.The Israel–United Arab Emirates peace agreement, or the Abraham Accord, was agreed to by Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020. If an agreement is signed, the UAE are going to be the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to formally normalize its relationship with Israel, as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so. Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalizes what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

The agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates promises to establish normal relations between the two countries. These include business relations, tourism, direct flights, scientific cooperation, and, in time, full diplomatic ties at the ambassadorial level. According to Emirati officials, the Accord is aimed at stopping Israeli annexation of the West Bank. However, Israel has used the term ‘suspend’, instead of ‘stop’, probably as an effort to placate pro-annexation groups.

Israel and UAE have been gradually making efforts to improve diplomatic ties over the latter half of the decade. In 2015, Israel opened a diplomatic office within the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi tied to the International Renewable Energy Agency; senior Israeli officials have visited Abu Dhabi; Israeli

athletes have participated in regional competitions within the UAE; and Israel is about to participate in Dubai’s World Expo 2020, which is now scheduled to open in October 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

WHAT THE ABRAHAM ACCORD MEANS FOR ISRAEL-UAE AND ISRAEL-PALESTINE DIPLOMATIC TIES AND RELATIONS

The agreement really took off when Israel halted the process of annexing the West Bank on July 1, as intended by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu. The Emiratis reportedly took the opportunity to promise full normalization of relations if annexation was taken off the table.

Despite the assurances on the part of Israel to halt their annexation of the West Bank territory, this Accord did not sit well with Palestinian authorities. From the perspective of the Palestinians and their supporters, the agreement reflects bad faith on the part of Israel, the UAE, and the United States, since the Israelis and Emiratis had been normalizing ties even before the Abraham Accord.

After the UN Partition Plan of 1947, Israel continued to systematically capture territory from Palestine over the latter half of the last century. Israel has demonstrated little interest in negotiations with the Palestinians as it has tightened its grip on the West Bank and, along with Egypt, maintains a tight cordon around the Gaza Strip.  Therefore, hesitation on the part of the Palestinian government is not unwarranted. The Trump administration has moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ended or significantly curtailed aid to Palestinians, and produced a peace plan that Palestinians regard as grossly unfair to their national aspirations and rights. All of this suggests that proper negotiations and diplomatic missions between Israel and Palestine will not be happening any time soon.

INDIA WELCOMES THE ABRAHAM ACCORD

India welcomed the normalization and strengthening of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, calling them both “key strategic partners”. The Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar received a call from the Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to explain the decision to establish full ties with Israel, becoming the first Gulf country, and the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to do so.

Indian authorities have always had good relations with Israel, and always supported development, peace and stability in the Middle East and West Asia. On that score, the UAE-Israel agreement will come as a relief for New Delhi, which had urged talks in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s earlier plans to declare Israeli sovereignty over about 30% of the West Bank areas on July 1, as had been mandated in U.S. President Trump’s “vision” agreement for the Israel Palestine peace process.

PAKISTAN’S STANCE ON THE ABRAHAM ACCORD LIES DIVIDED

Pakistan has been in two minds about recognizing Israel, especially after India revived its almost dead relationship in 1992 and proceeded to trade with it in the high-tech sector without creating any negative reaction among Pakistan’s Arab friends. Under President Pervez Musharraf, recognition of Israel was seriously considered as the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv issued “some 30,000 visas for Israeli travelers”. Pakistan’s foreign minister tried to discuss the possibilities of a normalization of Pakistan-Israel relations with an Israeli envoy, but talks ultimately failed because of Pakistani prejudice and indoctrination against the people of Israel.

THE ABRAHAM ACCORD AND THE NEW GEOPOLITICAL DYNAMICS OF THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE GULF REGION

Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Oman publicly welcomed the Abraham Accord. Saudi Arabia has remained silent, though there is significant speculation among analysts that this nonreaction is a sign that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman supports the agreement but is constrained because his father, the king, opposes normalization with Israel. Iran, Qatar, and Turkey have all criticized the accord, with the latter threatening to withdraw its ambassador from Abu Dhabi. Civil society organizations throughout the region remain steadfast in their opposition to normalizing relations with Israel. These include groups in the Gulf, which have spoken out specifically against the Israeli-Emirati agreement. Iran’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the establishment of diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey might suspend its diplomatic relations with the UAE, or call back its ambassador over the Abraham Accord. Jordan showed their support for the Accord and urged all parties to take the treaty seriously, in a effort to end the occupation of Palestinian land once and for all.

Reactions to the Abraham Accord have been mixed. Some countries welcomed this new promise of peace and stability with open arms, while others scoffed at the Accord, calling it an affront to the sovereignty of the Palestinian people and meagre attempts on the part of Emiratis to pander to Western powers.

IN CONCLUSION…

The Middle East, Gulf and West Asia regions have been mired in one two many senseless wars. Turmoil has become a way of life and so have extremism and prejudice against one group of people or the other. To be able to achieve peace in an otherwise war-torn part of the world, the first obstacle is to change the orthodox mentality of the people and get them to open their minds. With years of prejudice and anti-Semitic sentiments that have been nurtured in the Middle East, peace will not come easily. The main hurdle here is overcoming years of indoctrination and opening people’s minds to a brighter future without constant conflict, one that promises lasting peace in a place which has known neither peace nor any respite from war for decades.

To conclude – yes, this peace treaty is a step in the right direction. The UAE holds sway over the Middle East to some extent. Setting a positive example with the Abraham Accord, is sure to get other countries to follow in their footsteps.