InternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 02

UAE-Israel deal: A geopolitical earthquake or formality?

An agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a big development for the region. It may not have been abrupt but its timing is intriguing. As more Gulf states are expected to normalise their relations with the Zionist state for “regional peace and stability,” tension is also expected to rise after the divide between pro-America and pro-Iran forces sharpens in the Middle East.

Under the US-brokered deal, the UAE claims it has won a concession for the Palestinians as Israel agreed to temporarily “suspend” its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank. However, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains committed to annexation. The great breakthrough, which is expected to open new horizons for peace and stability in the region, also suggests increasing vulnerability of Arab states, which feel that their survival is linked to the US and its closest ally in the region. It provides an opportunity to the US and Israel to exploit their vulnerabilities and extract their resources. Analysts question the UAE move to come out of the closet and normalise its relations with Tel Aviv publicly without any visible reciprocation when Israel has taken a hostile attitude towards Palestinians.

It was understandable when Iran denounced the act of “strategic stupidity from Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv” and described the agreement as a “dagger … unjustly struck by the UAE in the backs of the Palestinian people and all Muslims”. However, Turkey’s reaction was ridiculous. It threatened to suspend its diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and recall its envoy over the deal. “The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters. He said he had told his foreign minister, “We may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador.” It is in sharp contrast to his country’s established diplomatic relations with Israel for decades. He should have announced severing ties with Israel instead of the threats to the UEA. He should also have told the Muslim world why it is fair for his country to establish ties with Israel but it is unfair for other Islamic countries.

The Palestinian leadership has called the agreement a betrayal of Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause. However, the new alliance has broken the status quo in which Israel was mostly isolated by its neighbours as a pariah. While the Palestinian issue has been sidelined regionally, mutual hostility towards Iran shared by Israel and several Middle East states has been a critical factor in their budding relations in recent years. Meanwhile, Washington has attempted to gather a coalition of Israel and autocratic Arab leaders against Tehran and its allies. Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist and author of a Netanyahu biography, wrote in the Haaretz newspaper that the Israeli leader had won a significant diplomatic coup while giving nothing to the Palestinians, previously seen as a requisite for regional acceptance.

Experts say it is not normalisation but the formalisation of bilateral relations under the auspices of the US, because the UAE had already normalised its relations with Israel informally. The two countries have had close relations, especially since the eruption of the Arab insurgencies. Many Israeli officials and ministers have visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai at different times in the last several years. According to the Turkish media, the agreement has many regional implications. However, it will not cause a breakthrough in the region, since it would not change the regional balance of power. First of all, the agreement is clearly against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian political actors. The deal means that the decades-long Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands will continue, and Israel would control the united Jerusalem. The agreement will make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem less likely, if not impossible.

The agreement also aims to solidify the position of both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump in their respective domestic politics. A foreign policy victory may contribute to the reelection of Trump in the coming American presidential elections, and it may provide political relief and an atmosphere for Netanyahu to establish a stable government and remain in power. Although more Arab regimes try to normalise their relations with Israel, yet the Arab streets will not change their perspective of Israel until it agrees to withdraw from the occupied territories and stop oppressing the Palestinian people. In other words, unless Israel agrees to normalise its policies, the Arab people will not change their perception of it.

On the other hand, Iran considers the deal a step toward Israeli intervention into the Gulf affairs. As mentioned by Netanyahu, there are intelligence and security dimensions of the agreement, which bring the two states together against the Iranian threat. However, the UAE feels vulnerable against Iran. Unlike the Israeli side, Abu Dhabi does not want to have a problem with Tehran, which can directly threaten the UAE. According to the Tehran Times, the accord was expected as military cooperation between the two countries had been at its peak for years. It is actually an American-Israeli need. Its significance came at a desperate time to boost two dying leaders, Trump and Netanyahu. The main purpose behind the agreement is to guarantee the safety of Israel; diplomacy is led under the slogan George Bush Junior established, which states, “The road to Jerusalem begins in Baghdad,” meaning that if you want peace in Israel, you need to have friendship with the surrounding Arab states.

According to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, the UAE and Israel and the US showed – at least for one brief shining moment – that the past does not always have to bury the future, that the haters and dividers don’t always have to win.” He thinks that the Israel-UAE agreement is a “geopolitical earthquake that just hit the Mideast” whose effects should be felt throughout the region.

Experts say tension could rise after more nations normalise their relations with the Zionist state as it would sharpen the divide in the region. It would also widen differences between their governments and people. The deal could help Trump and Netanyahu, but not peace.